Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: Musgrove Stands Tall

Chris Mack
May 31, 2018 - 12:52 am

It’s hard to stand much taller than 6 feet 5 inches, but on Wednesday night at PNC Park, Joe Musgrove did just that.

For a team that needed not just a win to cleanse their psyche of a disappointing homestand, but to prove to the Chicago Cubs, the rest of Major League Baseball, and perhaps most importantly to themselves, that they won’t be punked by a team and a manager that hide behind the false bravado of ‘good, clean, hard-nosed baseball,’ it was about more than a 2-1 Pirates’ victory to avoid a sweep.

"They took a shot at our catcher when [Elias Diaz] had his back to [Anthony Rizzo] and he was unable to defend himself, and we thought that was wrong,” said Joe Musgrove following the game.

Musgrove’s hard slide into Javier Baez at second base in the bottom of the third inning sparked words between the two teams as both benches and bullpens cleared.

It was the kind of answer to Rizzo’s dangerous takeout slide of Diaz at home plate on Memorial Day that Pirate fans had been waiting more than 48 hours for.

“All I tried to do was go in hard like they do and break up double plays,” continued Musgrove. “Guys want to hang out right on top of the bag expecting no one to come in hard, but the game’s still the game, especially in a tight battle like that."

For his effort, Musgrove received a pat on the back from Diaz when he returned to the dugout, a clear indication that the back-up catcher believes his teammates have his back, as he said before Tuesday’s game, when the city’s thirst for a bean brawl was running high.

One person inside the clubhouse told me, while Diaz was speaking in fact, that while opportunities for retribution had been missed Monday afternoon, sometimes “those windows [of opportunity] re-open.”

With emotions running high, I figured – as I imagine many of you may have – that it would mean when a rather benign game situation came up with Rizzo at the plate, a pitch would be headed for his ribs.

Rather than go after Rizzo specifically though, the team elected to wait for the right moment and give the Cubs a taste of their own medicine: A hard slide to break up a double play and effectively tell the all-knowing, haughtily arrogant Joe Maddon that both teams could play this game.

The Pirates had effectively evened the score, and had done it the same way Maddon, just a day earlier, had suggested kids should be shown how to play the game.

Had that been the pinnacle of Musgrove’s night, it would’ve been enough. Instead, he doubled down on the defense of his teammates through what coaches should be teaching their kids about when it comes to baseball: Perseverance in the face of adversity.

Four of the Cubs’ first five batters reached base in the 1st inning, but rather than buckling, the Pirates’ starter beared down and struck out Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell to get out of a bases loaded jam and limit the Chicago lead to 1-0.

“I didn’t do a very good job of commanding the ball in the first inning, actually the first couple, to be honest,” said Musgrove. His catcher guided him through the difficulties though, and he retired 11 of the final 14 hitters he faced.

“[Francisco Cervelli] did a really good job of recognizing what was there for me and what I was able to get over for strikes, and when we needed a big pitch in the zone.”

Musgrove made a one-run lead stand up, stranding nine Cubs on the base paths, ensuring the run in the 1st would be the only one he yielded, holding Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to a combined 0-for-7 in the process.

Through his first two starts as a Pirate, the big righty acquired in the January trade of Gerrit Cole is now 2-0 with just a 0.64 ERA and 12 strike outs in his first 14 innings.

More importantly though, Musgrove has proven that he and his teammates will, in fact, stand up for themselves.

And when they do, they’ll stand tall.