Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including two that were traded for Jason Schmidt. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland takes a look at a tough loss for the 1970 Cubs.
Andy LaRoche (1983) Third baseman for the 2008-10 Pirates. He was originally signed in 2003 by the Dodgers, after they took him in the 39th round of the amateur draft. LaRoche was also drafted a year earlier by the Padres(21st round), but decided to go back to college. He quickly established himself as a top prospects in the Dodgers system, getting rated in Baseball America’s top 100 after one full season. Over the next three seasons, he would make their top 100 list, ranked as high as 19th overall twice. Andy had two trials with the Dodgers(2007-08), struggling each time, before the Pirates acquired him at the 2008 trading deadline in the Jason Bay deal. LaRoche went right in as the starter at third base for the Pirates, starting(and completing) 45 of the last 50 games of the season. He hit just .152 with three homers and 12 RBI’s in 183 plate appearances.
In 2009, Andy was again the starting third baseman, playing 150 games, 142 as a starter. He hit .258 with 12 homers, 29 doubles and 64 RBI’s in 590 plate appearances. LaRoche finished as the team leader in games played, hits, doubles and RBI’s. His 2010 season did not go well, losing his starting spot when Pedro Alvarez was called to the majors. Andy batted .206, with only 16 RBI’s in 102 games. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Oakland A’s. LaRoche played 40 games last year for the A’s, hitting .247 with no homers and five RBI’s. He signed with the Indians this year, spending the first two months at AAA before he being released. Andy then signed with the Red Sox, finishing the year at AAA Pawtucket. His brother Adam played for the 2007-09 Pirates and his father Dave, pitched 14 seasons in the majors.
Armando Rios (1971) Outfielder for the 2001-02 Pirates. He was originally signed in 1994 by the Giants as an undrafted free agent. Rios didn’t make his major league debut until weeks before his 27th birthday, getting a brief trial during the 1998 season. In 1999, he played 72 games for the Giants, hitting .327 with seven homers and 29 RBI’s. That performance earned him his first full season in the majors the following year. In what turned out to be his only full injury-free season in the majors, Rios hit .266 with ten homers and 50 RBI’s in 115 games, 50 of them as a starter. The Pirates acquired Rios and pitcher Ryan Vogelsong on July 30,2001 from the San Francisco Giants for Jason Schmidt(see link below) and John Vander Wal. He was hitting .260 with 14 homers and 50 RBI’s at the time of the deal. Armando tore his ACL just two games into his time with the Pirates. The play that ended his season came in San Francisco on a pop up off the bat of Jason Schmidt. Returning in 2002, he missed some time that year as well with minor ailments, finishing with a .264 average and 24 RBI’s in 76 games. Rios was released by the Pirates following the 2002 season when they balked at going to arbitration with him. He played 49 games for the 2003 White Sox, then spent the rest of his career in the minors, finishing in 2005 in Independent Ball.
Denny Neagle (1968) Pitcher for the 1992-96 Pirates. He was originally a third round pick in 1989 of the Twins. The lefty-throwing Neagle made his major league debut two years later, pitching seven games for Minnesota. On March 17,1992, the Pirates acquired Neagle, along with Midre Cummings from the Twins, in exchange for John Smiley, who happened to be celebrating his 27th birthday that day. Denny pitched out of the bullpen his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, with lackluster results. Even in 1994, when he became a full-time starter, he went just 9-10 5.12 in 24 outings. Then the strike happened, the 1994 season ended and the 1995 season started a few weeks late. Things clicked for Neagle over the long off-season. He came back and went 13-8 3.43, leading the NL in starts(31) and also with 209.2 innings pitched. The following year he was even better, although he didn’t last in Pittsburgh the entire season. On August 28,1996, the Pirates traded Neagle to the Atlanta Braves for Jason Schmidt and two minor league players. At the time of the trade, he was 14-6 3.05 in 27 starts. They unfortunately got rid of him one year too soon, because he won twenty games for the Braves in 1997, then began a slow decline in performance, ending with three tough years of pitching(and one missed year) in Colorado. Denny went 124-92 4.24 in his career over 13 seasons in the majors.
Tom Parsons (1939) Starting pitcher for the Pirates on September 5,1963. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Pirates in 1957, making his debut in the minors at the age of seventeen. Parsons was a 6″7 righty, who pitched three years in the low minors, prior to moving up in 1960 to AAA. He would spend four full seasons at that level before getting his major league debut in 1963 as a September call-up. On Sept. 5th, Parsons started in Milwaukee against the Braves and lost 8-0, going 4.1 innings, with six runs(five earned) allowed on seven hits, with two walks and two strikeouts. In the third inning, he allowed a three-run homer to Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews. That would end up being Tom’s only game for the Pirates. The following September he was sold to the Mets, who used him four times that year, then he saw regular action during the 1965 season. That year he went 1-10 4.67 in 11 starts and 24 relief appearances. Tom spent his last four seasons of pro ball(1966-69) back in the minors, three of those years with the Astros organization after the Mets traded him there for Jerry Grote. Tom turns 73 years old today.
Jolly Roger Rewind: September 13, 1970
Granted a reprieve when Matty Alou dropped Willie Smith’s apparent game-ending fly ball to center field, the Cubs rallied for two runs with two outs in the ninth inning and defeated the first-place Pirates 3-2 at Wrigley Field.
On a rainy afternoon, Bucco starter Steve Blass took a five-hitter—with none of Chicago’s hits having come after the third inning—and 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. He starting the ninth by retiring Johnny Callison and pinch-hitter Paul Popovich easily. Cubs’ manager Leo Durocher then sent up Willie Smith to bat for his own starting pitcher, Bill Hands.
Smith lofted a routine fly ball in the direction of center field and a waiting Alou. Bob Prince, deploying the “can of corn” metaphor that he used to describe fly balls bound for the leathery fate of an outfielder’s glove, informed the Sunday television audience “Well, there goes 210 pounds of golden bantam.” The wind carried the ball towards the infield, but Alou waved his arms and put up his glove for the one-handed catch. Victory seemed certain.
But Alou dropped the ball, allowing Smith to reach second base. From that point, the Pirates’ downfall was swift. Don Kessinger hit Blass’ next pitch for a single to right field, scoring pinch-runner Ken Rudolph to tie the game. When Glenn Beckert hit Blass’ next offering into left for another single, Danny Murtaugh summoned reliever George Brunet to put out the fire.
Bucco shortstop Freddie Patek moved towards second in hopes that Brunet would attempt to pick Kessinger off second, but the veteran left hander, acquired from the Washington Senators just two weeks earlier, threw a pitch to Billy Williams. Williams singled to left, possibly within Patek’s reach had he been playing a normal shortstop position, and Kessinger came home with the winning run.
In the aftermath of this stunning defeat, Blass supported his center fielder. “I’ve messed up a hundred times on the mound, and I’m not about to put the blame on Alou,” he told The Pittsburgh Press. “He’s picked me up a hundred times with his bat, and I could have picked him up today by getting Kessinger out.”
Alou sounded disconsolate: “I have no excuse. I should have caught the ball easy. I knew the wind was blowing in [at something like 17 miles per hour] and I kept coming in and in and in after the ball was hit. I feel bad inside about it.”
Thanks to the Mets’ thirteen-inning loss to St. Louis, the Pirates remained in first place in the National League East, but the race tightened further. The Bucs maintained a half-game lead over New York, with the Cubs just a game out of first. Nevertheless, the defeat seemed to portend disaster. “The Pirates may have lost the pennant today at windy Wrigley Field,” wrote Charley Feeney in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Box score and play-by-play
The Pittsburgh Press game story