Pirates recover from weird, wild opener
ATLANTA — Welcome to the club, John Russell.
Russell endured a heart-thumping debut Monday as Pirates manager in the season opener against the Atlanta Braves.
The Pirates had a five-run lead in the ninth inning, with their closer on the mound. A gimmeâ¢ Hardly. Three innings, one ill-time misplayed fly ball and 10 runs later, the Pirates sneaked off with a 12-11 victory.
At his home in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., Jim Tracy might have watched the game on television and had a late-night chuckle. Lloyd McClendon and Gene Lamont may have read the box score and winced at the memories.
Like 37 Pirates skippers before him, Russell quickly found out that nothing comes easy.
“I’ve seen things like that happen,” Russell said. “I’ve been around baseball long enough to know the game’s never over until it’s over.”
For a while, it felt as if the game might never end. It clocked in at four hours, 28 minutes — the clubhouse lights still were burning at 1 a.m. — and wound up two innings shy of the longest Opening Day game in Pirates history. (The team won 14-inning affairs in 1958 and ’69.)
|ThePirates are 6-0 when they score in double digits in their season opener:|
|1911||Pirates14, Reds 0||BabeAdams||FredClarke|
|1935||Pirates12, Reds 6||WaiteHoyt||PieTraynor|
|1982||Pirates11, Cardinals 7||RodScurry||ChuckTanner|
|1990||Pirates12, Mets 3||DougDrabek||JimLeyland|
|2003||Pirates10, Reds 1||KrisBenson||LloydMcClendon|
|2008||Pirates12, Braves 11||FranquelisOsoria||JohnRussell|
Earlier that afternoon, Russell arrived at Turner Field feeling the bubbly optimism associated with every Opening Day.
“It’s the one game, I remember as a player, that you dreaded getting rained out,” Russell said. “It’s the one day you want to play, you’re excited to play. It’s a special feeling, being my first day as a manager in the big leagues.”
Pitching is expected to be the Pirates’ strength this season, but it was the offense that was clutch against Atlanta:
• The Pirates had 17 hits, matching their all-time high on Opening Day.
• Center fielder Nate McLouth drove in four funs, tying a career best. He hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning.
• Xavier Nady homered twice, becoming the fifth Pirates player to do so on Opening Day.
• Nady and McLouth also homered in last year’s opener against Houston. They are the first Pirates players to homer in consecutive season openers since Barry Bonds in 1988 and ’89. No Pirates teammates had homered in back-to-back season openers since at least 1956.
Nady had a game-tying homer in 2007 and two blasts for the win in 2008. Is he thinking about a trifecta next year?
“Yeah, right,” Nady said, laughing. “I’m just happy to be part of it. It shows a lot of character for this team to stay in the game, come back and pull out a win. I’m just happy JR (Russell) got his first win.”
As general manager Neal Huntington and his entourage walked into the clubhouse after the game, they walked past a row of reporters. The two groups, reading each other’s thoughts, shook their heads and smiled.
In his office, Russell exhaled in relief, got a hug from his son and a congratulatory handshake from Huntington.
“It was a little bit of a roller-coaster ride, but we’ll take ’em any way we can get them,” Russell said, grinning. “It’s baseball, and funny things happen. It’s a great win, but I don’t want to win it in that fashion every night.”
Note: The Pirates were off yesterday, but Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny and Matt Morris threw in the bullpen at Turner Field. Maholm (lower back pain) did not throw a simulated game, as had been planned, but remains on track to start Saturday.