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Perrotto: Ninth Wasn’t the Inning of Winning — or Even Trying

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Derek Shelton, Pittsburgh Pirates, Spring training

The final out in St. Louis had barely been made Thursday afternoon when my cellphone buzzed with a text message from a longtime friend.

“It is EXHAUSTINGLY difficult to root for the Pirates,” the text said. “It’s constantly disappointing and frustrating.”

Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Cardinals was easy for Pittsburgh Pirates fans to get frustrated about. It seemed that manager Derek Shelton didn’t even try to put his team in the best position to pull the game out in the ninth inning when the Pirates trailed by only one run.

This text did not come from someone who preferred to vent via text rather than sounding off on social media. It wasn’t from a fair-weather fan who will quit paying attention to the Pirates once the Pittsburgh Steelers start training camp next month.

This was from someone who attended his first Pirates’ game in 1969 at Forbes Field. It was from someone who follows the team religiously and rarely misses a game on television or radio if not attending in person at PNC Park.

This was someone who once had inside access to the inner workings of the Pirates back when the franchise was considered one of the best in baseball.

So, it wasn’t some crackpot upset over a one-run loss in mid-June. It was someone who may be the most knowledgeable baseball fan I know.

I was a fan, too, before I started covering the Pirates and MLB in 1988 for the Beaver County Times. In the ensuing 37 years, I’ve been objective about the Pirates and every other team. It doesn’t matter to me if the Pirates win or lose because I get paid the same, regardless of the outcome.

That is how the journalism business is supposed to work. Or at least the way it used to. Including the pay.

However, I can see how a serious fan would be frustrated with Thursday’s loss.

Down 4-3 to start the ninth, Bryan Reynolds grounded out leading off, but Ke’Bryan Hayes followed with a single. The Pirates had the tying run on base with one out with Michael A. Taylor and Yasmani Grandal due up.

Taylor has a .204 batting average and .508 OPS this season and Grandal’s numbers are .167 and .469. Not exactly great free agent signings by general manager Ben Cherington.

Shelton had two of his best hitters on the bench in Nick Gonzales (.306/.879) and Connor Joe (.255/.757).

Granted, Gonzales and Joe were being rested with the Pirates playing a day game in 89-degree heat following a night game. Yet Shelton left Gonzales and Joe sitting on the bench while Taylor lined out and Grandal grounded out to end the game.

There is nothing wrong with giving regulars an occasional day off because the 162-game schedule is daunting. Yet it’s not being abusive to ask them to pinch-hit with the game on the line following eight innings of rest.

Shelton often talks about the importance of getting everybody on the roster involved and that’s noble. But the object is the win and Shelton didn’t give his team the best chance to do that because he didn’t get enough people involved.

There never seems to be any urgency on the Pirates’ part to win games. Ever.

The ninth inning was yet another example.

The Pirates are in the fifth year of an interminable rebuild and fans have had enough of losing. They rightfully get upset when games play out as they did Thursday.

To paraphrase my friend, it must be exhausting to be a Pirates’ fan, especially after they have had 27 losing seasons in the last 31 years jammed down their throats.

Sadly, I don’t think the Pirates management understands that. Not Bob Nutting, not Travis Williams, not Cherington and, — by the way he handled the end of Thursday’s game — not Shelton.

Losing, it seems, is accepted.

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