Kovacevic: Conjuring up some summer magic ☕


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Adam Frazier carries Corey Dickerson off the field Wednesday night at PNC Park. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Elias Diaz buried his heels into the batter's box with the Pirates down a run, down to their final two outs, facing one of baseball's most renowned closers.

He worked a full-count walk.

About a half-hour later at his locker stall, I began bringing this up with him: "Elias, you walked ... "

And he cut me off.

"Game is over."

Beg pardon?

"The game. It was over. My guys, they were going to get me home. They were going to carry us."

Carry, huh?

Funny, but I'd seen Matt Sunday's capture above of the climactic scene, the one in which Adam Frazier made like an IKEA deliveryman in carrying Corey Dickerson off the PNC Park grass Wednesday night following Dickerson's winning sac fly that capped a two-run rally and a 6-5 soul-crushing of the Cubs.

None of the 17,831 who witnessed it are likely to forget it, including, deliciously enough, the half of them decked out in blue.

"It was amazing," Josh Bell would tell me. "One of the best since I've been here."

I'll take it further: It's one of the best since I've been here, and that harkens back to Todd Ritchie's first pitch to the Reds in 2001.

Because, above all else, it might have embodied who and what this group has become ... and what it's overcome. With the 24 different players on the injured list. With others who deeply disappointed at the outset. Even with minutiae that occurs within a given game.

The list's long within this one alone ...

Chris Archer lasted five innings and concedes a couple home runs -- act surprised -- but Melky Cabrera and Josh Bell  -- again, act surprised -- countered with a couple of their own off Yu Darvish to claw out a 4-3 lead through six:

As Cabrera, one of the clubhouse's leaders since the early days in Bradenton, would lay it out, "We just wanted to keep fighting for each other."

Francisco Liriano, another of those leaders but one who hasn't been Filthy Frankie for about a month now, frittered that away by serving up Victor Caratini's second home run of the night, a two-run shot in the seventh that leapfrogged the Cubs back ahead, 5-4, but Dovydas Neverauskas and Richard Rodriguez, two of the majors' most beleaguered relievers this summer, kept it there with a zero each.

[caption id="attachment_851503" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Richard Rodriguez after the ninth inning. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

In Rodriguez's case, a special spotlight. He was abysmal through May and earned that demotion to Indianapolis. But he's now logged 15 consecutive scoreless innings, this time setting down the heart of Chicago's order in the ninth, then reacting with a wholly uncharacteristic punch to the glove and spin as he came off the mound.

I had to ask, and I'm glad I did.

"That was not for me," Rodriguez told me through team interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "That, what you saw  from the mound, was from my heart to everybody who believed in me when things weren't going well."

He thumped the heart twice and continued, "Clint Hurdle and all the coaches, they never made me feel like I was on the outside. They stayed with me. They gave me confidence. So did my teammates. They never turned away from me. Never. They spoke life into me.  That was for them."

OK, settle the goosebumps. There's more.

Eighth inning. Starling Marte leads off with an infield single, Bell's up, and so are chins all over. But Marte gets picked off first on a dubious review -- the Pirates' people were adamantly insisting to me afterward they never saw a single definitive angle to overturn -- and chins are back down.

Same inning, another out later, Cabrera doubles. And when pinch-hitting demon Jose Osuna rifles a single to right ... Cabrera's nailed at the plate on a perfect throw by transplanted catcher Willson Contreras.

Doubly devastating stuff.

"We had some things go against us," Hurdle would point out. "That pickoff, that throw, giving up the lead ... but we've had those things happen all year, and we just keep going. The motor doesn't stop."

Which swings us back to Diaz and that walk he was certain would end well.

Full disclosure: Joe Maddon bungled a bunch of things from the visiting dugout, but baseball's smartest manager and the acute case of plantar fasciitis on the brain earned its very own column on this night.

Regardless, it takes the right mindset, the right team to capitalize, and these Pirates more than held up their end. Diaz's one-out walk off Craig Kimbrel led into Jung Ho Kang plopping a Texas League double inside the right-field chalk. Which led into Frazier's fielder's choice to second bringing the tie. Which led to Dickerson's slice to deep-enough left and wound up ... yeah, carrying the day:

“That was nuts," Bell observed with a slight shake of the head. "Craziest ending to a game that I think I’ve ever seen. And I feel like it just adds to the momentum.”

It's a good team. I get it, 42-43 is still sub-.500. But all that's mattered in baseball since the Doubleday discovery is the standings. And as this is being typed, the Pirates are three games behind the first-place Brewers, two behind these Cubs, and two out of the wild card.

That's contention, regardless of what led to it. That's real contention.

And it's been built, at the risk of coming across as corny, on an equally real sense of confidence rooted in community. That feeling Rodriguez was relaying. That feeling Cabrera might have summed up best by saying, "We continue to celebrate one another.”

I asked Dickerson about it.

"It speaks to the type of people we have in this room," he replied. "A lot of humble, hard-working guys, guys who don't ride the wave too hard. And I think that allows us to lean on each other for help. We're not scared to talk to one another. We all know how hard this game is. We get through it together."

I asked Hurdle about it, too, since he's at the root.

"It's been going on all along. It was going on when we weren't winning," he began. "Everyone sees it now, everyone pays attention, everyone gravitates when it's good. But there's got to be a community when things aren't good. It's even more important then to stay cohesive. Don't judge. Don't point fingers. Just work together and get better. Just put the guy next to you in a better position."

He paused a second.

"But this game ... this part of it, yeah, jumping around like kids, guys picking each other up ... man, that's fun to watch. Right from Diaz's walk."

Wait, something happened after the walk?

“It’s a special moment we’re living right now,” Diaz would say. “We want to keep doing it, to keep fighting, to make the playoffs in October. That’s what we want.”


• Boxscore
• Video highlights
• Standings


Jameson Taillon is on the 60-day IL with a right elbow flexor-tendon strain. He's scheduled to play catch Thursday.

• Gregory Polanco is on the 10-day IL with left shoulder inflammation. He'll begin a rehab assignment with Class AAA Indianapolis on Friday, one that's expected to last at least a week.

• Keone Kela is on the 10-day IL with right shoulder inflammation. He threw a bullpen Wednesday and is expected to pitch a simulated game Saturday.

• Francisco Cervelli is on the 10-day IL with a concussion and continues to take part in all baseball activities, but both Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association must process paperwork before he can participate in games.

• Rookie Davis has started a throwing program at the Pirates’ spring training facility in Bradenton, Fla. On the IL since June 8 with a blister on his right middle finger, Davis strained his forearm while on a rehab assignment with Indianapolis.

• Erik Gonzalez is on the 60-day IL with a left clavicle fracture and is 0 for 11 in four games with Indianapolis on a rehab assignmentavicle fracture.

Lonnie Chisenhall, outfielder, is on the 60-day IL and rehabbing in his $2.75 million living-room lounge chair in the Carolinas while awaiting a 60th opinion on the most hellacious left calf strain in human history.


The Pirates and Cubs are back at it with a Fourth of July finale. First pitch is 4:05 p.m., Jordan Lyles, who came off a three-week IL stint with a quality start -- six innings, three runs, five hits Saturday in Milwaukee -- will take on Jose Quintana.


All our expanded baseball coverage, including Indy Watch by Matt WelchAltoona Watch by Jarrod Prugar, and Mound Visit by Jason Rollison, can be found on our team page.


[caption id="attachment_851466" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Pirates vs. Cubs, PNC Park, July 3, 2019 - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

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