ShareThis Page
Pirates recover from weird, wild opener |

Pirates recover from weird, wild opener

Rob Biertempfel
| Wednesday, April 2, 2008 12:00 a.m

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 gimme• 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.)

Double-digit debuts
ThePirates are 6-0 when they score in double digits in their season opener:
Year Score Winningpitcher Manager
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.

Categories: News
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.