It's not often the San Francisco Giants can drop two of three to a last-place ballclub and something else will distract me. Especially when the two losses come by the miserable finals of 2-1 (in 14 innings) and 2-0. Especially when that single run came courtesy of an error.
Those 23 RBI-less innings wasted a pair of gems from Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito, who both pitched well enough to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates. Neither would end the night with a W.
Frustrating would be the word to describe the sensation of watching the Freak absolutely deal—7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10K—with nothing but a gray no-decision to show for it.
Criminal would be the word for Zito's night—6 1/3 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K—because, after yet another delicate work of mound artistry, the southpaw's reward was the 10th loss of 2009. That ain't right, folks, not by a long shot.
You can even throw in the bullpen to that duo of hard-luck starters.
One of Major League Baseball's best set of firemen arguably outpitched Lincecum in the extended opening affair. They went the same seven innings while walking three and striking out four.
Unfortunately, the only hit and earned run surrendered by the crew (Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Brandon Medders, Brian Wilson, and Bobby Howry) came simultaneously on Garret Jones' walk-off bomb.
Even Matt Cain's triumphant return from almost having his throwing elbow obliterated by a line drive isn't the lasting impression from this series. Although I would be remiss if I omitted mention of his scintillating performance—7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K.
Despite all that, the story of the three-gamer was Andrew McCutchen.
Whoa, wow, [expletive]—these are the only words that approach an adequate description of the way this kid patrols center field for the Pirates. Even they don't get the job done.
Nor is he too shabby at the dish or on the base paths.
McCutchen wore an awfully heavy collar in the opener, going hitless in six at-bats with a whiff. Of course, several of those AB and the strikeout came against the Franchise—Lincecum has made better players look worse.
Against an easier assignment in Zito, the Buccos' speed burner scratched out two hits in four total at-bats on the night. He also flashed those feet by swiping a bag as well as adding another K to his tally.
Most impressively, my namesake coaxed two walks and an infield hit (although everyone but the umpire knew he was out) off Cain and Romo on Sunday. Again, he stole a base and fanned.
Not a bad weekend's worth of work when you step back and notice the opposition—the All-Star game starter, a former Cy Young having a deceptively filthy year, and another All-Star fire-breather showing no ill effects from a dangerous incident.
Even so, it's the 22-year-old's defense that has me convinced his star is barely within earshot of the heights to which it will ultimately rise.
It's not just his astounding celerity. You need more than that substantial asset to play as far from the wall as McCutchen plays. You need exceptional instincts and the ability to break immediately in the correct direction.
I say that because watching McCutchen plant himself for an at-bat is unbelievable.
Maybe it was simply the product of the Orange and Black not having much power, but Andrew had green acres behind him even when Pablo Sandoval and Bengie Molina strolled to the dish.
Those two aren't Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, but both Moneys have thump to spare. Yet McCutchen looked like he could've picked either middle infielder's pocket if he were feeling larcenous.
I'm not even sure that's hyperbole when you contemplate his speed.
And it can't be dismissed as typical rookie audacity.
Several times, the Gents challenged the youngster and, several times, he justified his confidence. Randy Winn hit a ball a human-being—positioned where the Buc was positioned—shouldn't have caught.
McCutchen didn't even have to leave his spikes.
The only Giant to burn the burner was Cain, who still had to crush a ball to the warning track to be able to land one behind the center fielder. All in all, that's about right—if you're gonna cheat too far in on a batter, the pitcher's the guy to choose. The opposing hurler's much more likely to hit a unusually shallow ball than an unusually deep one.
The rook chose the wrong guy because Matt Cain can hit, but it happens.
The infrequency with which it happens to the Pittsburgh Pirates with all of 22 years and 38 MLB games worth of experience is a testament to his ability and innate connection to the game.
I still maintain the Pittsburgh Pirates could've held onto some of their other pieces while still providing room for McCutchen's growth. There's no rule saying you can only have one natural center fielder in the big green at a time.
However, one justification for the moves has the ring of gospel.
The Pittsburgh Pirates definitely have a center fielder of the future in Andrew McCutchen. About that, there is no question.
Sadly for the Steel City, whose future will remain very much in doubt.