When the Pirates entered the bottom of the first down 2-0, there was this slight feeling of hopelessness, as if the Opening Day optimism wouldn’t even last a full inning. Then, with one swing of the bat, everything changed.
After Garrett Jones crushed his two run river shot off of Vicente Padilla, all of the optimism of the season was restored for me. I admit to being downright giddy, able to do or say nothing at all, other than some laughter and loud cheering. I don’t usually have a strong reaction to individual plays, and I’ve seen Jose de los Santos hit a homer, so I’ve seen some rare plays. The Jones homer not only gave the Pirates a chance to get back in the game, but it represented so much more.
First, it gave the idea that this might be a new Pirates team. In years past, a 2-0 deficit, even after one inning, seemed insurmountable. When Akinori Iwamura worked the count for a leadoff walk, and Jones homered two batters later, there was a feeling that the Pirates may actually have an offense that can come from behind and stay in even the closest of games.
As for Jones, the homer gave the feeling that his 2009 season was legit. I said in my preview of the roster that I felt his power was the real deal. It’s hard to deny that, even before today’s game. When Jones hit his second homer, a low and away pitch that he took the other way over the wall, it only secured that feeling. For most people, that hit would be a line drive down the left field line, probably a stand up double. Jones had the power to send it just far enough to sneak over the wall. The first homer was a mammoth shot, but the second homer seemed to be more telling of his ability.
Jones did everything right this game. His two outs were even impressive. The first one advanced a runner to second, leading to a run two batters later. The second one was a hard hit liner to center field. Jones even drew a two out walk in the eighth, leading to a three run homer two batters later to give the Pirates some insurance.
It’s only one game, but really, how many times do we have to say that before we start to consider Garrett Jones the real deal? After his amazing month of July in 2009, in which he hit for a .310/.361/.700 line with ten homers in 100 at-bats, there were questions as to whether he was a fluke. He hit for a .285/.376/.505 line from August to the end of the season, with 11 homers in 214 at-bats (a pace of 30 homers in a full season), and still there were doubts. At some point we’re going to need to make the transition from “Is Jones the real deal” to “Jones has to be the real deal”. With more performances like today, that switch may be coming soon.
As for the rest of the game, there was a lot of encouragement. It wasn’t just the Garrett Jones show. Ryan Church came up huge with a three run double on a perfect line drive to the gap while pinch hitting for Zach Duke in the bottom of the fifth with two outs. After seeing the opponents bounce back to within three runs, Ryan Doumit added some insurance with his three run shot. Brendan Donnelly and Octavio Dotel looked dominant in the late innings. Duke looked strong after his struggles in the first inning. Even Jeff Clement looked good, with good defense and a 1-for-3 performance, including a crushed foul ball that would have been an easy homer if it was fair.
The Pirates got a great outing from their starters, the offense was on, and didn’t let up, and the bullpen allowed the Dodgers to score some runs, but tightened up the ship and shut them down in the final innings. That’s exactly what we need to see from the Pirates in 2010.
Players of the Game
The top five players of the game, according to FanGraphs. WPA stands for “Win Probability Added” and represents the impact the player had on his team’s chances of winning. It’s based off of percentages, with each team starting the game with a 50% chance to win. It is presented in decimal form, so .152 would equal 15.2%, meaning the player in question would have increased his team’s chances of winning by 15.2%.
1. Garrett Jones: .289 WPA
2. Ryan Church: .132 WPA
3. Zach Duke: .083 WPA
4. Ryan Doumit: .060 WPA
5. Lastings Milledge: .048 WPA
-Dejan Kovacevic reports that the Pirates could send Daniel McCutchen down to AAA after his start on April 11th. This would make room for the return of Joel Hanrahan without losing anyone. I’ve been speculating about this for awhile, as McCutchen, or whoever would be the fifth starter at the time, wouldn’t be needed again until April 24th. That gives the Pirates a few weeks to evaluate Hayden Penn, of course anything could happen in those few weeks to clear up a roster spot to give more time for Penn to stay in the majors beyond the 24th.