Two outs! Two!

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SEATTLE — With two outs in the fourth inning tonight, Ronny Paulino doubled hard to left field. Jack Wilson then flied out to center field, ending the inning. Routine stuff, right?

Not quite. What you probably did not see on your TV screen was Paulino tagging up at second base — on what was the third out of the inning. So, if Ichiro Suzuki would have dropped the ball, Paulino would have been lucky to make it to third base instead of scoring an easy run.

Fun-da-men-tals.

* * * * * Coupla things about Seattle …

First, there really is a Starbucks on every street corner. Really.

Second, the folks here are friendly. Unlike DC and Chicago, the business suit crowd doesn’t all wear iPods and stare straight ahead as they march through downtown. And, at least in the neighborhoods where I’m hanging out, I’m the only one without multiple piercings, body art and dyed-black hair.

The only thing that creeps me out is, nobody jay-walks here. The downtown grid is a bunch of one-way streets — nothing coming for blocks, and yet a dozen people obediently stand on the corner, staring at the “do not walk” sign. Except for one guy, tearing across the street, like some rules-breaking, devil-may-care wild man.

That would be me.
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Closer today, gone tomorrow?

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SEATTLE — With Matt Capps out of the picture the next three days, Shawn Chacon should have no problem stepping in as the Pirates’ closer.

Chacon has performed ably in two jobs already this season. He was excellent in middle relief, the only consistent middle-innings guy in the bullpen. He had less success as a starter, but four starts is a small sample to pass judgement, especially considering he was abruptly switched into that role.

Chacon, like most every pitcher, wants to be a full-time starter. If he can’t be in the rotation, the closer’s job is the next-best thing — high risk, high reward. For the next 72 hours, at least, it’s his.

Last winter, Chacon avoided arbitration by signing a one-year contract for $3.825 million. As a starter, he’d be a bargain — even considering his contract includes incentive clauses that would pay Chacon $50,000 for pitching 160 innings, $50,000 for 180 innings and $125,000 for 200 innings. At his current pace, Chacon is on track for 131 innings this season, but likely will wind up with less than that if he stays with the Pirates.

As we prepare to turn the corner into the trading frenzy part of the summer, Chacon would seem to be a good candidate to be traded. Reasonable salary, adequate talent. The only thing missing is for the Pirates to again be sellers at the trade deadline.

We should have our answer by the All-Star break. The Pirates play seven games at home against the top two contenders for the NL Central title, Milwaukee and Chicago. At the break, the Pirates could still be in the hunt, or they could be buried, facing a double-digit deficit in the division.
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East meets West

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Welcome to PNC Park. Have a pierogi.

The flock of Japanese media that’s here to cover Masumi Kuwata got a taste of Pittsburgh tonight, as it was kielbasa-and-pierogi night in the press dining room. The hometown grub wasn’t as good as what you’ll find during Nationality Days on Merchant Street in Ambridge — I still lick my lips when I think about a night out there years ago with a friend — but, as media chow goes, it was great.

Last night, I dined with Kazumi, who writes for Tokyo Chunichi Sports. She gave her first-ever pierogi a thumbs up. She said it reminded her a little of gyoza, a dumpling filled with ground beef and onion.

Who knows? Maybe if Kuwata sticks around long enough, the Bucs will ship in some sushi.


Jack Wilson was not in the starting lineup tonight — the third game in a row he was replaced by Jose Castillo. Curious.

Yeah, Wilson had a rough game in the field Saturday against the Yankees. But just a day earlier, he made a great play on a grounder to gun down speedy Johnny Damon. The shoulder injury he sustained a month ago that hampered his throwing motion appears to have cleared up.

So how to explain management’s sudden interest in playing Castillo, who barely had a reason to put on his cleats the previous three weeks?

Could be manager Jim Tracy wants to give Wilson a breather. A good, long breather. Calm things down. Recharge Wilson’s batteries.

Could be Castillo has earned some extended playing time for handling his demotion like a good soldier.

Or, it could be a trade is brewing. Dealing Wilson wouldn’t be easy. He’s making $5.25 million this year, $6.5 million next year, $7.25 million in 2009 and $8.4 million (with a $600,000 buyout) in 2010. The Pirates would have to eat some of that salary to make a deal.

For now, I think the first explanation is most likely. It would be easy to accept that, if Wilson is back out there Thursday night. But if he’s not … well, stay tuned.
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Whiff!

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WASHINGTON — The Pirates used their first-round draft pick, the fourth overall selection, on Daniel Moskos, a left-hander from Clemson.

Poor kid.

I wonder if his first move after getting the call from GM Dave Littlefield was to set up his obligatory appointment for surgery with Dr. James Andrews.

Considering the near-total lack of impact position players in the farm system — Andrew McCutchen is the only one worth waiting for, and he’s just now finding his way at Class AA Altoona — it’s safe to say the Pirates’ biggest need was a bat. Factor in the recent run of devastating injuries to the pitchers taken in the first round by the Pirates, it’s no wonder everyone was clamoring for them to choose a hitter.

But, in the draft, a team’s needs don’t always mesh with taking the best player available. And the Pirates weren’t about to divert from that old-fashioned thinking — even if it has produced one ho-hun draft after another over the past … oh, 20-odd years.

Also, no matter how much the front-office suits will deny it, money was a big factor. When the Pirates passed up a chance to take catcher Matt Wieters of Virginia Tech — whom the Baltimore Orioles gladly snatched with the No. 5 pick — it was because Wieters has signability issues (i.e. his agent will seek a top-dollar signing bonus).

Of course, the Pirates’ fan base (what’s left of it) is angry. I got two honked-off text messages within minutes of the pick. Want to see even more rage? Read my e-mails or the message boards.

Moskos might turn out to be a fine pitcher. But unless he wins the Cy Young Award, Pirates fans will always compare him to the Hitters Who Got Away. They will view him as nothing more than another sign of ownership’s lack of commitment to putting a win-at-all-costs product on the field.

And I can’t say I’d blame them.

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A tribute to ugliness

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Spend five minutes inside RFK Stadium, and any nostalgia you might have for Three Rivers Stadium will evaporate. In a city with monuments to the Father of Our Country and the Great Emancipator, perhaps it’s only fitting there be a memorial for Great Mistakes in Sports Architecture.

There are red and yellow seats in the upper deck, their colors fading after years exposed to the sun, rain and snow. There’s the giant green wall behind the outfield wall. A cramped, Oscar Madison-era press box which offers only a partial view of the field. In every office room, hallway or storage space, the dominant design feature is painted cinderblock. And, I swear I am not making this up: there is a shower in the men’s room near the press box.

I can’t even begin to wonder why. I don’t think I want to.

*****

With a few exceptions, it appears the Pirates’ won’t hesitate to dip into their talent pool in the minors when things aren’t working on the major league level.

We’ve already seen it with the bullpen, where Marty McLeary and Brian Rogers were quickly re-ticketed to Indianapolis when they struggled.

They’re being more patient with Jonah Bayliss, because he has a lot of promise. And there are about 3.5 million reasons for the Pirates to give Tony Armas plenty of time to get himself back on track.

It’s good that the front office is willing to make moves. But it’s got to be a bit disturbing, seeing one reliever after another flame out. There’s not much left to turn to down at Indy.

Humberto Cota was dead weight on the 25-man roster, especially when Ryan Doumit showed he can handle the chores behind the plate. That gave management the chance to call up Rajai Davis, putting the heat on Chris Duffy. The clock is ticking loudly for Duffy, who turned 27 seven weeks ago.
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