Baseball can be a feast for the sentimentalist. It’s a sport with sufficient competitive balance, and enough of the element of luck, that on any given day (night) the underdog can take it to the overdog. (See Al Weis, 1969, the 1988 Dodgers, et mucho al.)
This happened again Monday night in Pittsburgh when Pirates third-string catcher Erik Kratz took Giant ace and World Series hero Madison Bumgarner long in the fifth for the only run of the game. The Pirates bullpen was golden, preserving the 1-0 win. A complete game loss for Bumgarner, the pride of Dudley Shoals, North Carolina and persona non grata in Kansas City.
The pitch Kratz went yard on was not a bad one, low and inside. But Kratz went down and got it. The ball didn’t make it out by much. Giants left fielder Angel Pagan got a glove on the ball over the fence but couldn’t hold on to it. But a home run in the first row counts as much as one that makes it to an adjoining zip code.
One might be able to find a more unlikely Giant killer than Kratz, but the search would take a while. Before Monday’s game Kratz was hitting .045 — 2 for 44. He had gone 0-for-16 since the Pirates acquired him from the Angels. (The Pirates needed another catcher when Francisco Cervelli went on the DL with a broken left hand — Kratz was on MLB’s remainder table at $20K.) Kratz’s last dinger before Monday came in August of 2014.
One hesitates to say that Kratz was overdue, as it’s hard to make the case that anyone with a lifetime BA of .205 is ever really due. This caveat noted, I hope and trust he enjoyed the moment. Lots of folks in Pittsburg did. In San Francisco many were doubtless asking, to paraphrase Butch Cassidy, “Who is this guy?”
It’s not just Kratz’s batting numbers that don’t shout MAJOR LEAGUE! at you. He’s listed on the Pirates roster as 6-4 and 245 pounds. He looks every pound of it. (In the Pirates’ all-yellow uniforms, if they still use those, he would look like a school bus.) He has, how should I put this, something less than leading man looks. In fact, he looks like a guy you would more likely find on the third bar stool from the left at happy hour than in a Major League uniform. But last night he was as golden as the letters on the Pirates’ uniforms.
Kratz game winner was set up by another unlikely solid performance. Pirate starter Jeff Locke handed the game over to the bullpen after 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the NL West division-leading Giants. This quality start was perhaps even more unlikely than the Cavs’ Sunday night win over Golden State. In Locke’s previous two starts he had allowed 18 runs and 20 hits over 8 2/3 innings.
It’s hard not to suspect that the tag team of Kratz and Locke were only on the field Monday because Pirate manager Clint Hurdle considered the team’s prospects for the evening unpromising, so why not give the A-team a night off. As Private First Class Gomer Pyle, USMC, put it: “Surprise, surprise.” Against every reasonable expectation, Kratz and Locke were the A-team Monday night. The unlikely win put an end to the Giants’ eight-game winning streak and the Pirates’ five-game losing streak.
What a game. What a story. I can picture a 90-year-old Vin Scully, in retirement, telling this story to some friends, or at one of the many speaking engagements that come his way. He’ll do it proud. In another time, the game would be meat for a James Thurber casual. It could appear in one of his collections next to “The Night the Bed Fell.”
Is this game fun, or what?
Oh, by the way, if you think it’s nice to fool Mother Nature, Giants beat the Pirates 15-4 Tuesday night. Kratz didn’t play.
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