OK, the Mets didn't play a particularly crisp game — it was cringeworthy when Carlos Beltran and Ryan Church both wound up south of Nate McLouth's eastbound fly ball, agonizing to watch any ball get near Daniel Murphy (unblemished though his record was) and disturbing to see the offense lapse into torpor against Jeff Karstens, whom I don't think it's too uncharitable to call a short-arming junkballer.
But my birthday game was a reminder that there's a big difference between a good team playing slightly flabby baseball and a truly bad one. And the Pirates are truly bad, in a lot of ways. (I know by saying that I've ensured they'll summon up the ghosts of Tike Redman and Humberto Cota and put two shivs between our ribs, but even if that happens other teams will prove me largely correct.)
A lot of their players are simultaneously bad and too old to have much hope of getting better. Brian Bixler has a .261 career OBP, showed no ability to play shortstop, and is 26. I know the Red Sox didn't want to give up Brandon Moss, but after looking at his stats and watching him play tonight I'm not sure why — he looks like the kind of sluggish player Boston is smart enough to now employ in a limited role, if at all. Freddy Sanchez's defensive strategy seems to be to fall in the general direction of balls, which does make him a perfect keystone partner for Bixler. Nyjer Morgan played a superb left field, and I never would have guessed he's a veteran of junior hockey in western Canada, but he still became 28 while doing all that, which is a little too late to get excited about.
Catcher Robinzon Diaz (perhaps the “z” is for “ZOMG do we suck!”) looked impressive and Nate McLouth is genuinely good, but there's just not enough there for anyone to think the Pirates will win 75 games any time soon — and if you're thinking about farm-system reinforcements, this spring the Pirates' minor-leaguers got beaten by Manatee Community College. It's like surrounding Ty Wigginton and Jason Phillips with lots and lots of Jorge Velandias, only it never ends. Joshua asked about the Pirates and seemed genuinely surprised when I told him that they were an original National League franchise and told him tales of Willie Stargell and Dave Parker and the Killer Bs. This is a proud old franchise that deserves better than the hideous run of pain and futility that's been inflicted on a generation of fans.
But the general hopelessness about the present and future (Yates and Burnett and Veal, oh my!) wasn't the worst thing about watching the Pirates. Rather, it's that they have the worst body language of any baseball team I've seen in a long time. Every time I looked at them it seemed like someone was staring at his shoes, or gaping at an equally confounded teammate, or trudging in a grim little circle while the brain trust glowered out at the field. I remember this brand of corrosively bad baseball (oh Howe do I remember it), and I feel for those compelled to spend 162 valuable afternoons and evenings watching it.
But all that said, the Pirates are in our way, and empathy shouldn't be allowed a place in the equation. And the Carloses showed a welcome lack of human feeling, with Beltran banking a petite yet perfect double off the tarp for the lead and Delgado supplying the exclamation point off Sean Burnett, a sad-eyed LOOGY whose delivery seemed to begin about five feet behind Delgado's head. Given that, I didn't rate Delgado's chances of hitting the ball 42 feet as particularly high, which once again shows what I know: Burnett threw a breaking pitch that flattened out enough for a good look and Delgado hit it about 420 feet. And we were safe in port, Pirate-infested waters and all.
Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History, whose pages include a more local history of class warfare, is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.