Wednesday, February 29, 2012
October 14, 1992: The Pittsburgh Pirates went into the 9th inning of Game 7 of the NLCS up 2-0. Doug Drabek, who had 10 complete games that year, was pitching a 5-hit gem. Then Gold Glove 2B Chico Lind booted a grounder. Then Francisco Cabrera smacked the ball into left field for his just his 4th hit of the year. Then the best defensive outfielder in baseball failed to throw out the slowest runner in baseball at home plate. Then the Pirates lost for two decades.
During the '92 season, young knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was outstanding. After winning 10 games in AAA that summer, the converted 1B was called up to Pittsburgh. He went 8-1 for the Pirates during the regular season and was 2-0 in the NLCS. All told, Wakefield was 20-4 with a 2.71 ERA in 245.1 innings for the Pirates organization that year. With Drabek gone, many believed Wakefield would be the staff ace starting in 1993. Unfortunately, Wakefield struggled to post a 5.61 ERA that year and spent all of 1994 in the minors before being released. The Boston Red Sox signed him less than a week later. In 1995, Wakefield posted a career high 4.6 WAR. He pitched 17 more seasons and retired with 200 wins and 2 World Series rings.
In 1997, loyal Pirates fans were rewarded after "suffering" through four straight losing seasons. That summer, "The Freak Show" had several highlight reel moments including a no-hitter by Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon. The team was still in contention until September 24th. Unfortunately, a 1-3 finish doomed the team to second place and a sub-.500 record. Things couldn't be that bad, though. Going into 1998, the Pirates not only had a strong core in Pittsburgh, they also had the one of the top farm systems in all of baseball with Aramis Ramirez, Kris Benson, and Chad Hermansen in Baseball America's top-13 prospects. Unfortunately, those three players combined for just 7.1 WAR while wearing black and gold.
Still, a couple of years later the Pirates were back in contention. On the 4th of July, the Pirates were 40-39 and playing the Milwaukee Brewers at home. Star catcher Jason Kendall was having the best season of his young career with a .939 OPS going into the game. Then his ankle exploded. Yeah. Because the team didn't want to throw in the towel on what looked like a promising season, they rushed to replace Kendall behind the dish, trading 23-year old Jose Guillen for Joe Oliver. Oliver put up a 36 OPS+ down the stretch, the Pirates finished 18.5 games out of first and Jose Guillen hit 185 home runs after leaving Pittsburgh.
After the 2000 season, the Pirates ponied up the dough and signed Kendall to what is still the riches contract in team history. Kendall returned strong from his ankle injury and posted an .882 OPS in '00. Then he promptly fell off a cliff. Truth be told, the deal wasn't that bad for the Pirates. The Pirates got more than 10.5 WAR out of Kendall in the first four years of the deal. The problem is that the team was hoping to get the player that put up nearly 20 WAR in the four seasons before signing the new contract.
Then in the early 2000's, every top pitcher selected by the Pirates saw their arm fall off. All of them. Benson (#1 overall in '96) missed all of 2001. Bobby Bradley (#8 overall in '99) missed all of 2002. Sean Burnett (#19 overall in 2000) and John Van Benschoten (#8 overall in '01) missed all of 2005. Bryan Bullington (#1 overall in '02) missed all of 2006. Brad Lincoln (#4 overall in '06) missed all of 2007. Lincoln wasn't even injured but Dr. James Andrews has a "buy five surgeries get one free" special so the team figured, why not.
In 2004, 22-year old Oliver Perez was one of the best young pitchers in baseball. He was just unbelievable. He pitched 196 innings over 30 starts. He had a 2.98 ERA, a 1.153 WHIP, allowed 6.7 H/9 and had 11 K/9. During the rest of his time in Pittsburgh, he pitched a total of 179 innings in 35 starts in a year and a half. He had a 6.18 ERA, a 1.737 WHIP, allowed 9.6 H/9 and had only 7.5 K/9.
Jose Bautista used to play for Pittsburgh. Jose Bautista was a bad hitter. Jose Bautista got traded for nothing. Jose Bautista became the best hitter in baseball.
Jerry Meals. Jerry Meals, Jerry Meals, Jerry Meals. Jerry Meals. Jerry Meals, Jerry Meals Jerry Meals, Jerry Meals. Jerry Meals, Jerry Meals, Jerry Meals, Jerry Meals, Jerry Meals, Jerry Meals. Jerry Meals.
Ok, I think that's about enough. I just need to go to sleep because I can't keep thinking about this. The worst part is that if I kept thinking, I could probably come up with more. I'm hoping that Burnett's injury isn't serious. For what it's worth, I'm actually a pretty positive guy and think that the team could be decent this year. Still, with the odd nature of A.J.'s injury, I couldn't help myself.