07/26/08 12:56 AM ET
Pirates fall short on emotional night
LaRoche blasts pair of homers; Nady, Marte traded
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Everything started as normal. A 7:05 p.m. ET first pitch. The typical Friday home red uniforms. Zach Duke beginning the game with a painless 1-2-3 first inning.
It all changed very quickly, however, as Xavier Nady stepped into the on-deck circle with teammate Jason Bay up at the plate with one on and two out in the first.
Nady was summoned back into the dugout and immediately informed that he was a part of a trade that, pending medical evaluations, will send he and reliever Damaso Marte to the Yankees for four prospects. Nady would be pulled from the game and replaced by Jason Michaels in right field. Marte would soon be announced as unavailable.
The timing wasn't impeccable, forcing teammates to say goodbyes and exchange hurried hugs and handshakes while the game continued. By the end of the game, the clubhouse stalls for both players were empty. Both had left the ballpark.
However, in the midst of the sudden news and amid the curiosity that followed as players tried to learn the details of the trade, there was a moment that in a way summed up the bond that this team has developed over the course of the season.
"It was emotional," Pirates manager John Russell said. "It was kind of a situation where it happened rather quickly. It was a special moment in a lot of ways. You could feel an outpouring for those guys when they came in and said goodbye. It was genuine feelings there that they were a huge part of this team. Guys were wishing them well. It was a nice moment for everybody. It was obviously sad in some ways, but to see them rally together was nice."
Both players had become integral parts of the club. Nady's .330 average led the team, and his bat had been the most consistent all season. Marte had been thrust into the closer's role in recent weeks and had become one of the top left-handed setup men in baseball.
"It's tough," said Duke, who dropped to 4-8 with the loss. "You never want to lose good guys as teammates. But we go through it every year here. It's a tough situation. But you've got to focus on the game."
They would soon enough. But besides two solo home runs by Adam LaRoche -- one in the second, the other in the fourth -- the game passed by in those first few innings with understandably less than full attention. As Bay said afterward, that's just human nature.
"It caught a lot of people by surprise," the left fielder said. "The first couple of innings were a lot of, 'Did you hear?' The game almost became secondary and I think once everyone got over that, it was back to baseball. But I think it's only human that there was a little bit of a lull."
No one called it a distraction, but the effect was evident. It would also be evident, though, in the team rallying together to try to come back from a 5-2 deficit late.
"You could sense it on the bench," Russell said. "These guys knew they had to come together. We were two players short tonight and you could feel the intensity and the focus."
Duke came into the game not having won since June 9, a span of eight starts. He lasted six innings, but exited after giving up five runs on seven hits. A two-run homer by Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez stung, as did a pair of doubles by former Pirate Brian Giles, who scored after both.
"It's frustrating because aside from the home run and the ball that went over [center fielder] Nate's [McLouth] head, it's not like they were hitting the ball hard," Duke said. "They placed some good ones."
In the meantime, the Pirates ran themselves right out of some opportune scoring situations.
In the third, Freddy Sanchez was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on a one-out double by Ryan Doumit. The inning then ended quietly as Bay grounded out.
Then in the sixth, a Pirates rally was quickly halted on an unorthodox inning-ending double play. After already plating one in the inning, the Pirates had runners at the corners and one out. Pinch-hitter Chris Gomez dropped an RBI single into right field, scoring one, and sending Doug Mientkiewicz scrambling to third.
Mientkiewicz would be thrown out. Gomez would then also be thrown out trying to advance to second after Mientkiewicz was tagged out at third.
"We had some baserunning issues," Bay said. "Because we lost by one run, that becomes a little more prevalent. We're not going to get a win every night. We know that. But to put ourselves in position where if we can do that every night, we'll be all right."
The Pirates were also unable to take better advantage in the eighth, when down by two, the first three hitters reached base. LaRoche stuck out, Mientkiewicz flied out to short center and Jack Wilson popped out to short. Squeezed in there was a two-out walk to Jose Bautista that forced in one run, but nonetheless, a greater opportunity was missed.
In the end, though, the clubhouse was more reflective than anything else. There was reflecting on teammates that will be missed, yet, also a desire to keep moving on.
"I think we handled it pretty well," Bay said. "There was a little initial reaction up and down the dugout. But we came back and we put ourselves in a chance to win the game. We could have easily just folded and chalked it up to the big trade for being a reason we weren't focused."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.