Last night’s Reds-Pirates Wild Card game undoubtedly left you cold and wanting, and that doesn’t just go for Reds fans. Throughout the Pirates 6-2 beatdown to advance to the next round of the playoffs, you were undoubtedly saying to yourself, I wonder what Justin Williams and Adam Flango are thinking about RIGHT NOW? Sometimes, life works out for you. (Well, unless you're Dusty Baker and managing the Reds in the playoffs.)
Flango (a Pirates fan) and I (a Reds fan) kept a running commentary during last night’s contest, and have posted it hear for your reading pleasure. We kicked things off a few hours before the first pitch, and then concluded just before Flango went on a Jesse-Pinkman-esque bender in celebration of the Buccos victory. Enjoy…
Justin: How are you feeling about the game tonight? Do you think it will be a good crowd? Are you nervous? Oddly enough, after lackluster performances by the Reds in their last two playoff appearances, I'm eerily confident that they will win tonight. I could easily see the Pirates pressing a little bit, and then the crowd being taken completely out of it if they get down early. But we can discuss specific matchups and whatnot in a bit. Even as a Reds fan, I'm more interested in how you, a long-tortured Buccos fan, feels about the game tonight. Nervous? Excited? Just happy to be here?
Flango: Am I nervous? AM I NERVOUS? I have waited 20 years freakin' years for this moment, to see the Pirates play a real, honest-to-goodness meaningful game in October and it's finally here. I have been nervous since we knew we'd be hosting it on Saturday night. It seems cruel for the fate of the season to be determined by one game, but I must admit I am a bit conflicted.
On one hand, I know that a month from now, regardless of what happens this postseason, I will look back on this season and marvel at how this actually was a real thing. Yet, I find myself really wanting to win this game. I don't want to feel disappointed if the Pirates lose tonight, but I know there will be part of me that succumbs. (Oh, and did I mention that I have tickets to the potential Game 3 of the NLDS in Pittsburgh? So yeah, I REALLY want a win tonight.)
That being said, I think you should be prepared for an electric crowd. Like straight lightning bolts shooting from the bleachers. In fact, that's one of the biggest reasons I think the Pirates will take this game. It's going to be impossible not to feed off the atmosphere that'll be there. (Though part of me does worry about them pressing a little, but I'll be fighting that part of my brain all night long.)
I find your confidence in the Reds interesting. I wonder if it comes from the same place that my confidence comes from when the Steelers play the Bengals. The Steelers beat the Bengals for so long, the fan in me finds it difficult to take the Bengals seriously sometimes.
So you have confidence in Johnny Cueto's arm not falling off tonight? I know he's been good his past few starts, but his propensity for getting injured this year has to have you a little worried, right? I must know the secret to your eerie confidence.
Justin: I'm glad you're excited. I'm happy for Pirates fans. Like, genuinely happy. I think my Bengals fandom identifies with your Pirates fandom. Over the course of this season (and even early last season), the reactions that my Pittsburgh friends had were the exact same as the way I felt about the Bengals in 2005 and 2009. So while I want the Reds to win, part of me will sympathize with the Buccos faithful if that happens; if the Reds lose, I'll definitely be rooting for the Pirates against the Cards.
As for my confidence, I don't see it as the same thing as how you might feel about a Steelers-Bengals game, if only because that would put the Reds on the same level as the Steelers, and that's not really fair to how successful the Steelers have been. (Except for this year...ya know, cuz the Steelers suck now.) But if I had to pinpoint my confidence, I would say it stems from two aspects. The first is that I'm not as intense and impassioned a Reds fan as I am a Bengals fan. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Reds fan, follow them closely and badly want them to win...but it's not quite on the level of my Bengals fandom. Because of this, I'm also a less nervous and pessimistic Reds fan. As you know, I'm always worried and fearing the worse for the Bengals, and if they were in a similar situation tonight, I'd be going nuts. With the Reds, I'm more excited and optimistic.
The second reason is also an intangible thing that makes me sound like an out-of-touch newspaper columnist: I think the Reds are pissed off. The city is kind of down on them (and rightfully so) after the team's performance this past weekend, and all of the things fans were angry or concerned about over the course of the season are festering and boiling over. There's talk of Dusty Baker getting fired if the Reds lose. People want more from Joey Votto and his massive contract, more production (and less contract talk) from Brandon Phillips, more consistency from Jay Bruce, less bitching about the fans from Ryan Ludwick. The pitching staff is littered with injuries. Everything. And the players know it and have been listening to it for the past week or so. I think they'll be pissed and looking to "prove the doubters wrong."
As for the matchups and statistical analysis, I certainly think it's an important aspect to look at, but I'm also not sure how much it will matter in this single game situation. These are two good teams. They've both won 90-plus games, and the players are what their stats say they are. But Cueto and Liriano could both be lights-out or throw up meatballs. Any one player could have a hot night at the plate. Aroldis Chapman could come in with a one-run lead in the ninth and fan the side, or he could walk the bases loaded and give up a walk-off grand slam. If this were a five- or seven-game series, I wouldn't be feeling great about the Redlegs. But one game? Who the hell knows? Somehow, that translates to confidence for me.
I'd prefer a healthy Mat Latos in this game, but I thought Cueto pitched well in his two starts back from injury, particularly his last one against the Mets. He went 99 pitches, had five Ks, only gave up three hits (although he did have a lot of fly-ball outs, which could be troublesome). What's your confidence level in Liriano? Any worry that Russell Martin isn't his usual catcher? And do you have a prediction? I'm going Reds, 4-2. (Ed’s note: This comment has been stricken from the records in order to prevent embarrassment.)
Flango: Well maybe I'm just a glass half-full kind of fella, but if we're going to play the out-of-touch newspaper columnist game, I think that the power of winning for someone or something (in this case, an entire city and generation of fans) will forever trump people that are powered by a more negative motivation (i.e.: sticking it to someone). Trust me, I took at least two college psychology classes.
And I too agree that statistics are probably not going to mean a whole hell of a lot. The postseason is a different animal entirely and maybe the Reds have an advantage in that they won't be overcome by the enormity of the moment.
I've wavered in my confidence about Francisco Liriano over the past 24 hours. On one hand, he has not been great in September, but on the other, he has been really good at home this season. I like that he'll make life difficult for the Reds three lefties (Choo, Votto, and Bruce) and certainly has the potential to go eight strong innings tonight. But what gives me even more confidence is the fact that Gerrit Cole is prepared to go into tonight's game if anything goes wrong. And Russell Martin has given me nothing but confidence this year; I'm not worried about him at all.
I'm going with the club poised to become America's team this October: I'm taking the Pirates, 5-1.
(Pirates take a 2-0 on two 2nd inning homeruns…)
Justin: Assuming you haven't collapsed due to an accelerated heart rate...
Things could not be going better for the Buccos. Liriano looks to have nasty stuff, Byrd and Martin sent two bombs into the seats, and Cueto looks like the Pirates kidnapped his family and are holding them ransom in the dugout.
And you were right, this crowd is unbelievable. I love the blackout, everyone is going bonkers, and the place looks packed. They have to be breaking about a thousand fire codes.
So, if you can even see straight at the moment...early thoughts?
Flango: I have very little thoughts besides FOISDHJFASDJFLAKSDJFLKASFJSDLKF.
That being said, the bottom half of that second inning was unlike anything I have ever seen. The way the crowd morphed into a gang of high school bullies with Cueto as their meat was amazing. They were taunting Cueto in the same way you would a basketball player that air-balls a three-pointer. It was perhaps the proudest I've ever been to be from Pittsburgh. (Oh, and Cueto looks VERY rattled.)
Francisco Liriano, meanwhile, is dealing in a way I've seen before. Locating pitches, getting ahead of batters—it's a joy to watch when he's on.
Are you nervous yet or have you been able to maintain your steely resolve?
Justin: The CUEETTTTOOOOO chants are incredible. You can tell Pittsburgh is hockey town.
I am nervous, because Cueto clearly doesn't have it. As good as Liriano looks early, he could flame out or make a few mistakes. The offense isn't incapable of scoring a few runs. But if Cueto gives up 9 runs before he gets the hook, that won't matter.
This is also the worst-case scenario for Dusty Baker. Having to make big decisions (like going to the bullpen) this early in the game is the last thing he wanted. How long will he leave Cueto in there? This is not the situation where you want to let a guy work his way out of it.
Flango: Phew, I can breathe now after Liriano came back to earth a little bit. And you're right, Dusty is wringing his hands in the dugout, praying that Cueto can get through at least the fourth...and as I write that, Marte smacks a double off the left field umpire (bounces like that make you think it's your team's night) and Cueto is yanked.
Right call? Wrong call? I think it was the only decision Dusty could make. Risking a few more batters could have been catastrophic. Also, the Pirates couldn't have hoped for a better 3 and 1/3 innings.
Justin: Damn, that Frazier foul ball was close.
Yes, Dusty needed to pull Cueto. I think he should have had someone warming up after the Martin homer, and I wasn't all that excited about sending him back out for the third and fourth innings. I also, however, am not a big fan of Sean Marshall (and am now hoping the Reds throw someone—anyone—that didn't spend copious amounts of the season on the DL), and as I write this, Marshall has loaded the bases, given up an inherited run, and is now being yanked in favor of JJ Hoover. Yeesh.
And NOW an error by Brandon Phillips spoils an inning-ending double play and allows another run. My prediction of the Pirates winning 43-1 is looking solid, huh?
Flango: Frankly, the Reds are lucky to be down only 5-1 right now. Pedro Alvarez has hit the ball squarely twice and if he can get some elevation on one, he may have a dagger left in his back pocket.
But since I don't believe in jinxes, I'm throwing this out there. After the third inning, the Pirates broadcast switched announcing teams. (I've got the radio broadcast on and intermittently am switching between that audio and TBS audio.) We then learn that the duo that started the game, fan favorite and noted Pittsburgh-gasmer Greg Brown and former Pirate pitcher Steve Blass, will return in the 7th inning.
It may not be a good sign for your team that fearing a karmic shift based on announcers was the most frightened I've been so far (that is, if you consider being scared different than being nervous).
Justin: Yeah, but if softly hit ground balls won baseball games, the Pirates would be going home disappointed tonight. Alas.
The biggest thing that jumps out at me after 5 and 1/2 innings is how superior the Bucs have been all game. They've played great, the Reds have played awful, and the Pirates have even caught a couple breaks. The way things have gone thus far, I was shocked when McCutchen didn't make that nearly-impossible diving catch in center field.
Aside from a rotating radio booth, are you worried at all? This game just feels over. The Pittsburgh crowd even seems bored at this point.
Flango: The last 20 years have me fighting to agree with you, but it certainly feels like the Reds are not likely to mount any sort of a comeback, especially with Votto and Phillips looking completely befuddled by Liriano tonight. Now that we're through the top half of the 7th with Pirates still up 5-1, it seems more and more likely.
And while Cincinnati's star hasn't performed tonight, Andrew McCutchen is doing his best Joey Votto impression with two hits and two walks (one intentional). A year before Votto's MVP season, I made a list of franchise baseball players and ranked McCutchen one spot ahead of Votto. After Votto's MVP, my Reds fans friends attempted to feed me all the crow in the world. Now that McCutchen looks poised to take home his first MVP award, I pose the question to you: Which player would you rather have for the next 10 years, Joey Votto or Andrew McCutchen?
(Russell Martin smacks his second homerun of the night. 6-1 Pirates)
Flango: Oh and also, I'm SUPER not worried about Russell Martin now, by the way. I thought you might be wondering.
Justin: Can Russell Martin be one of the options???
Great question though. I don't think you could be disappointed with either one, but if I'm forced to pick...I think I'd go McCutchen over Votto. Let me explain...
If I were choosing purely based on the player as a hitter, I'd likely go Votto. Again, it's a good problem to have, picking the better bat between the two, which the stats back up. But I think I'd give a slight edge in that area to Votto, especially when extrapolating his skills and strengths over the next ten years. (This could also be a product of me watching and following Votto on a more regular basis than I do Cutch.)
But the game is about more than just hitting, and because of that, I'd ultimately go with McCutchen. He's the better all-around player in my opinion, and has the ability to keep that going for the next few years. He has great speed, is a great fielder (and plays a more difficult position than Votto), and is four years younger than Votto. There, I said it.
Flango: I'm with you. Votto is an incredible hitter but I'm not sure he's found the perfect balance between being a hitter and getting on base. While I understand that getting on base is a valuable skill and underrated by most fans, it seems to me that Votto has taken it to the extreme. And (this is going to admittedly be super out-of-touch newspaper columnist-y) I think when you're so used to taking pitches, it becomes hard to alter your approach if needed to come up with a big, timely hit. I think as a pure hitter, I'd probably take Votto for a season. But if I had to have a hit to win the game, I want McCutchen up. I don't know if that is an actual answer, but I'm going with it.
Also, we are three outs away from the Pirates advancing to the NLDS. I can't even begin to put into words what this feels like. I have not produced any children yet, and I have yet to get married, but I find it VERY hard to believe those events feel better than this. (Sorry, future wife and kids!)
Justin: Congrats, my friend. I'm happy for you and the other non-douchey Pirates fan, though not quite to the level that I'm disappointed in the Reds. Go beat the Cards.
Also, please enjoy this win responsibly.
Flango: I think we can all join together in rooting against the Cardinals. I've watched my favorite team win two Super Bowls and one Stanley Cup, but this game was unlike anything I've ever seen before. The crowd was a mixture of a raucous college or high school crowd plus the incessant chanting of a European soccer club. I've never seen a pitcher get that rattled by a crowd before and I've never seen a crowd be that deliberate in their taunting of a pitcher.
Tonight was a beautiful moment for anyone that has ever called Pittsburgh home. And I've never been more proud to say that I'm one of those people.
Sorry your team lost. But not that sorry.
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