New plan after last two seasons: I'll check baseball standings on Oct 1, 2013. If the Pirates are in 1st, I'll watch. No way before that.
— DJ Gallo (@DJGalloESPN) September 11, 2012
Hurdle’s explanation: Wandy was ‘maybe going to get one more hitter.’ Added he was concerned about someone named Navarro.
— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) September 11, 2012
This is the time of year when losses dig deep, a toothache of inexplicable pain that runs through your blood. This is the time of year when every manager's decision is scrutinized, overanalyzed and ultimately criticized based on the final result of the game.
The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds played 14 innings was back in 1984. Amazingly, the Pirates used only two pitchers in that game, as Don Robinson pitched eight innings in relief, losing when Reds catcher Brad Gulden hit a two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the 14th inning.
On Monday night, Pirates fans may have preferred that Clint Hurdle stick with one pitcher. The game's crucial moment -- or at least the first of many crucial moments -- came in the bottom of the seventh inning. Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez had pitched sweetly into the seventh, allowing just one hit, a Chris Heisey home run in the fourth inning. The Pirates led 3-1 and Joey Votto singled and with two outs Todd Frazier reached on an infield single. Rodriguez was at 89 pitches.
As you can see from the tweet from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic, the decision to remove Rodriguez with Dioner Navarro at the plate did not work out. Navarro doubled into the right-field corner off Jared Hughes, scoring two runs to tie the game.
Was it the wrong move to yank Rodriguez, or is this second-guessing in hindsight? I wasn't watching the game at the time, but it certainly appears Rodriguez was still pitching well. Navarro had only 34 plate appearances at the time and both his home runs had come off left-handers and he has been better in his career against left-handers (.747 OPS versus .631), so it's certainly possible Hurdle was aware of that and went to the right-handed Hughes. It's also worth noting that Hughes had pitched well lately: Over his previous six appearances he'd gone 6.1 innings and allowed five hits with eight strikeouts and no walks. On the other hand, Hughes has a somewhat significant platoon split (.198 versus righties, .248 versus lefties).
One more number: When Rodriguez manages to pitch deep into a game, he has been effective this season. Look at his numbers (entering Monday) at various pitch totals:
Pitches 1 to 25: .307/.365/.500, 1.63 SO/BB
Pitches 26 to 50: .253/.321/.349, 1.82 SO/BB
Pitches 51 to 75: .274/.310/.400, 2.90 SO/BB
Pitches 76 to 100: .196/.226/.331, 5.80 SO/BB
Add it all up, and it's probably a 50/50 call. If Hurdle leaves in Rodriguez and he gives up a double, then the criticism comes from not replacing Rodriguez. I can't blame Hurdle on this; he turned Navarro around to his weaker side and used a reliever who has been very good of late.
From that point, maybe it was inevitable the Pirates would lose. Joel Hanrahan pitched out of a one-out, runner-on-third jam in the 11th and Chris Leroux threw two scoreless innings. Meanwhile, the Pirates had loaded the bases against Aroldis Chapman in the 10th, thanks to three walks, but Sam LeCure rescued Chapman by getting Michael McKenry to ground out.
Then came the 14th inning, and that inning may live on in 2012 Pirates lore longer than the seventh. The Pirates loaded the bases with no outs off Alfredo Simon. Chase D'Arnaud flew out to shallow center. Pedro Alvarez grounded to Joey Votto, who made a nice play to record the force at home. Jose Tabata grounded out to Votto to end the inning.
And then Rick VandenHurk came in -- his first appearance of the season. In their biggest game of the season (so far!), the Pirates turned to a reliever with a 5.97 career ERA. It was a tough position to put VandenHurk in. We'll forgo the details.
It's not over yet for the Pirates; the Cardinals lost again and Pittsburgh remains 2.5 games behind St. Louis (and notice Philadelphia and Milwaukee slowly creeping back into this thing?). And I'm guessing Pirates fans -- including our friend Mr. Gallo -- will be watching on Tuesday.