Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lastings Milledge Sticks it to the New York Mets

8-22-10: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. the New York Mets

qThe big story of this game is Zach Duke's unexpectedly-terrific start. I say unexpectedly because his previous start was awful, and the first inning looked like he was going to hit his Brick Wall right away rather than waiting until the fifth inning.
Looking back on that first inning now, I am amazed that this game turned out the way it did. I left saturday's game once a steadily-increasing downpour shut down a game we were losing 5-1, with James McDonald logging his first truly poor start in Pittsburgh. Today's first inning made it seem like the ensuing disaster had become trapped under the tarp last night and had emerged pissed-off and ready to ensure another crushing loss. Lead-off hitter Jose Reyes benefited from an awful throw from Doumit to first base, and essentially made it to second off of a bunt. Reyes then proceeded to steal third, at which point Carlos Beltran hit a sacrifice fly to drive in an early run. David Wright got a double, Jeff Francoeur was walked, and I really have to hand it to Ike Davis for striking out and probably losing the game for the Mets right then and there.
Nevertheless, Zach Duke somehow managed to shake the inning off and proceeded to go seven innings without another earned run. One could say that it's really ironic how the Pirates' least-successful pitcher over the last couple months is also only the second starting pitcher to get a win in quite some time, but why be a jerk about it? It's nice to see Duke do so well again. It's been far too long.
The big deal for me, however, is Lastings Milledge's first home run in PNC Park of the season. And what a home run! He hit it off of Johan Santana, a terrific pitcher with an ERA of under three, and he hit it while playing the team for whom he made his MLB debut once upon a time.
A lot of people are very critical of Milledge, and not without reason. He has an OPS of .702, and his Wins Above Replacement statistic for this season is -1.2. However, his average with Runners in Scoring Position has been consistently very good, and this has very much been his life raft this season.
Big expectations have followed Milledge throughout his career; he was supposed to be amongst the top 3 selections in the 2003 amateur draft, but allegations of sexual misconduct while in high school severely hampered his value and he was ultimately selected 12th overall by the Mets. He consistently hit above .300 while in the Mets minor league system, and was for a while viewed as their most promising prospect. However, his personality rubbed his manager and some of his teammates the wrong way; he was viewed as something of a showboater, and in 2007 saw very little playing time with the team. He was traded to the Washington Nationals, where he saw some success throughout the 2008 season. However, he began 2009 with an average of .167 over 24 at-bats and was optioned down to AAA.
In 2009, Milledge was acquired by the Pirates in trade for Nyjer Morgan, perhaps the most popular Pirate amongst fans and fellow players alike at the time due to his speed and charisma. Many people were highly skeptical about trading such a key part of the 2009 team for a possible head case who had yet to produce at the major league level with any real consistency. The move did make sense, however Nyjer was 28 and Milledge looked liked a potential star who had been under-valued due to a string of bad luck and bad choices.
Big expectations followed Lastings into this season. Looking at his history, it's no stretch of the imagination to think that the tremendous ability he showed in the minors had been seriously curtailed, perhaps, but was still there waiting to come out. In this regard, 2010 has been something of a disappointment. He has only hit 3 home runs, he has at times been very shaky defensively, and his average is at .272. This is, of course, not what one wants from a corner outfielder.
That being said, Milledge has exhibited none of the personality problems that have plagued him prior to coming here. He has made steady progress throughout the season despite being switched from left to right field, getting benched frequently in favor of Ryan Church, and now platooning with Ryan Doumit. Furthermore, with the amount of trouble the Pirates have scoring runs, anyone capable of excelling with runners in scoring position needs to be put in the lineup. For all these reasons, I think he deserves a good long look as an everyday starter in right field; I'd like to see how he performs with the team's confidence clearly behind him, rather than treating him like a replacement player. I believe that he is going to hit 30 home runs one of these years, provided that someone gives him a fair shake.
Regardless of what happens, however, today he hit a game-winning home run against a team that took exception to his goofball ways. In the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters; one bad team beat another bad team by only one run. Even in the eyes of the front office this does little to improve Milledge's standing.
But today none of that mattered; Milledge was able to land a good blow against an organization that made no secret of their disdain for him a couple years ago. It was beautiful to see, and we should all be so lucky as to have that same kind of chance some day.

No comments:

Post a Comment