Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: Bucs Bullied By Cubs Once Again

Chris Mack
May 29, 2018 - 12:10 pm

For the first two months of the regular season, we’ve heard time and again that the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates were benefitting from a better clubhouse atmosphere, more cohesion amongst teammates, and a more positive direction than the last two campaigns.

If these guys believe in each other though, it was hard to see it yesterday.

It’s one thing to get your butt handed to you by a division rival while their fans fill your ballpark and make it sound like a road game.

It’s quite another to swallow that embarrassment while also watching that division rival quite literally take out your back-up catcher with the kind of slide that’s no longer supposed to exist in today’s game.

To then have no response to that takeout slide is the icing on a humiliation cake that the Pirates had shoved down their throats Monday afternoon at a PNC Park that sounded more like Wrigley East.

For the first time this year, the Bucs looked like the heartless club that wandered it’s way through 74- and 78-win seasons the last two years.

It was distressing enough to watch them muster just two hits against spot starter Mike Montgomery, who had an ERA approaching a touchdown in 18 relief appearances. 

It was downright mortifying to watch them surround Diaz on the ground, writhing in pain after Anthony Rizzo went out of his way to slide directly into the catcher’s legs, apparently sharing nary a word about retaliation against a franchise that continues to treat them like a weak little brother.

Rizzo’s slide was at best a blatant violation of the takeout slide rule 6.01 (j) (4), which reads that a runner, when attempting to break up a double play, must slide “within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder. “

Rizzo, who’d run the first 80 feet between third base and home plate on the outside of the base line, promptly cut inside the base line, altering his path to slide directly into Diaz’s legs after he was out and Diaz had stepped well out in front of the plate to throw to first base.

At worst, the slide was a flagrant attempt to cause injury to an opponent. 

Either way, the Pirates needed to respond immediately. When Kyle Crick didn’t throw at the next batter, Jason Heyward, it left open the possibility that perhaps they’d reserve their comeuppance for Rizzo’s next trip to the plate.

Instead, down 5-0 and with first base open, Richard Rodriguez elected to do nothing when Rizzo came to the plate in the top of the ninth. No one from the dugout told him to do anything. Diaz, who said after the game he thought the slide was one that doesn’t belong in the game anymore, didn’t ask for a pitch inside.

The Pirates backed down.

And Rizzo roped a ground ball through a drawn-in infield for his seconnd and third RBIs of the day, causing yet another eruption from the thousands of Cubs fans in attendance who made their presence more known all afternoon than anyone in black and gold.

After the game, third baseman David Freese and third base coach Joey Cora could be seen engaging in a heated shouting match that necessitated the intervention of Gregory Polanco to avoid an escalation to a physical confrontation.

Whether it was related to the refusal to respond to the Cubs or not, it served as reminder that Freese had come in to Spring Training three and a half months earlier asking for more fire from his teammates and more of a burning desire to win. He even went so far to cite submission to the Cubs as an example, when he questioned the intensity in 2016 and 2017.

“The three hours that you're in that dugout and on that field has to be about kicking some (butt),” said the veteran infielder on February 16th. “When you're losing 10-2 in the pouring rain against Joe Maddon and you're laughing, that's not good. That says a lot."

So what does it say about a ball club that was in first place 12 days ago, nine games over .500, and staring down an opportunity to create space in the N.L. Central, if they not only can’t win the games that mater most - they’ve now lost eight of their last 10 - but also don’t care enough to stick up for their teammates and stand up to the big brother that continues to take advantage of them on the field, in the stands, and most importantly, on the scoreboard?

If the 2018 Pirates won’t stand up for themselves now, then what makes them any different than the failures of the last two seasons?

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