WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- If you want to read about the Pirates' 7-1 blowout loss to the Cubs on this Sunday night in the Little League Classic, skip down below, right under that pretty little "subscribe" banner, and dig into the bullet points.
If you want to take a different route with me, buckle up and we'll start by establishing this fact: The Little League Classic is a production.
I'm talking heavy traffic (of both the foot and the vehicular variety), capacity parking lots, mad scrambles to get settled into your workspace — all of it. I was wholly unprepared for the magnitude of the event on this particular 91-degree Sunday in north-central Pennsylvania. But after re-routing — and re-routing again — I found my parking spot and made my way to Howard J. Lamade Stadium to complete my great quest for credentials.
The first thing I see upon taking my spot in line for the security check: A young boy shifting excitedly in his shoes, his dad with a hand on his shoulder.
"Where do you want to sit, buddy?"
"Anywhere, dad," the kid replied, right hand smacking into the leather on his left. "It doesn't matter to me."
The kid was right. Don't worry about that right now, dad. Because when you step through the metal detectors and make your way down the concrete path, you're greeted by this:
— Hunter Alek Homistek (@HunterAHomistek) August 18, 2019
And, just a few yards to the right, this:
— Hunter Alek Homistek (@HunterAHomistek) August 18, 2019
Yeah, you're not worried about where you're going to sit. You're here, and baseball engulfs you. The air literally smells like a grill everywhere you go. Even driving through the town of Williamsport, you'll pass statues of players anchored to seemingly every street corner. There's a billboard advertising Clyde Peeling's Reptiland, a zoo for reptiles and amphibians in nearby Allenwood, Pa., as a "double home run."
A zoo. As a "double home run."
I have no idea what that means. Nor do you. But it doesn't matter. You throw some baseball terminology around in Williamsport, and by god, you get a reaction.
Move to Bowman Field at BB&T Stadium across town, and there's the Pirate Parrot fist-bumping and grooving around the stands. Clark (the Cubs' mascot) isn't far behind. Even the official Little League mascot, Dugout, got in on the action, signing autographs, giving out high fives, and establishing that upbeat spirit at every stride.
And the kicker: Two major-league teams are in town, and they're here to make it all about you, kid.
"These kids are lucky and we're super blessed to be a part of it," Chris Archer was saying. "As you all know, when you're 10, 11, 12 years old, those memories stick with you — more than when you're like 18, 20, 22. So to be a part of those kids' memories forever is going to be really special for us."
Archer didn't take the mound tonight for the Pirates, which gave him plenty of time to do this:
Every pop of the bat — especially those three Cubs home runs — elicited a response much larger than the 2,509 on hand for the showcase. The Little Leaguers — from various corners of the world — came together as one and celebrated the game of baseball and their little part of its history here in Williamsport. They were digging every second of it.
"It was just fun to see that there was no cultural divide," Archer would say.
Then there was Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker, each piecing it together and helping to establish a little more perspective for that Little League lens.
"Little League was just so much fun," Newman was telling me. "You go out there every day with your best friends and go out and just play ball."
"You obviously always want to be competitive and you always want to win, but our loss tonight doesn't shake off the luster of this whole experience," Tucker added at his locker after the game. "The Little League Classic has been awesome. I wish we could do it every year. Meeting those kids, trading pins and gear and shirts and hats — that's stuff those kids will never forget, but us as major-league baseball players will never forget too, which says a lot about the game of baseball and the people involved."
I never did track where that kid and his dad ended up sitting, but I know this: It didn't matter. The kid was right. There wasn't a bad seat to be had tonight.
The experience wouldn't allow that.
• The actual baseball stuff this evening all starts with Mitch Keller. After giving up six earned runs in each of his first two starts at the major-league level, Keller allowed just three combined in his next two, most recently going five innings in Anaheim for his best start of the season.
After tonight, that start in California is still his best of the season.
Keller allowed a solo shot in the first to Nicholas Castellanos, then another to Jason Heyward in the third. The kids loved it:
"I wasn't really thinking home run, then I turned around and it got right over the wall," Keller said. "So I was a little surprised, yeah. But I just left a pitch up, and he got a barrel on it."
For Keller, it's another turn in a rocky rookie experience. Five starts is hardly enough to make a final judgment on a pitcher's potential, but it's not a meaningless sample size, either. I pulled some stats to see how Keller compares to other pitches of varying skill and hype levels through their first five major-league starts:
Randy Johnson: 3-0, 26 innings pitched, 2.42 ERA, .225 BA to 109 batters faced (only four starts in 1988*)
Jameson Taillon: 2-1, 28 innings pitched, 3.86 ERA, .286 batting average allowed
Gerrit Cole: 4-1, 29.2 IP, 3.94 ERA, .296 batting average allowed
Ivan Nova: 1-0, 26.1 IP, 4.78 ERA, .274 batting average allowed
Joe Musgrove: 2-2, 28.2 IP, 5.02 ERA, .292 batting average allowed
Keller: 1-2, 21.1 IP, 8.86 ERA, .359 batting average allowed
Again, don't write Keller off, but being last — by far — in these metrics to start his career is not an excellent sign, either.
• You can't blame it all on the pitching, though. Not when the Pirates are 0 for 21 with runners in scoring position during the past 21 such chances, following up Saturday's 0-for-12 performance with an 0-for-9 tonight.
"It could be a couple things," Hurdle said. "We hit two balls hard. We had four punchouts tonight, a couple looking. So it could be their stuff from time to time, but there were so many yesterday and again today ... We gotta find a way to have just a more finished fight in the box."
• Josh Bell left the game after popping out in the sixth inning, replaced by Colin Moran at first. Bell struggled tonight, going 0 for 3 with a strikeout, but it was a curious move. I watched Bell pop out, walk straight past the dugout and head back near the clubhouse/training rooms here, so my first thought was that he suffered an injury.
I asked Hurdle if that was the case.
"No. No injury," Hurdle fired back with just a little bit of attitude. "We're down 7-0, we need to get another guy in to roll the pitching around, he might get one more at-bat. We're playing again tomorrow night."
• Jose Quintana's line: Seven innings pitched, five hits, seven strikeouts.
"He finished on the pitches," Hurdle said. "Arm speed. Secondary pitches. Early curveballs for strikes. The changeup placed the best I've ever seen from him. Fastball had some life and finish to it. Really good stuff from him tonight. Unfortunate for us."
• The Cubs' last road series win came May 17 - 19 in Washington against the Nationals. That's awhile ago.
"To win two in a row, on the road, which has been a struggle, is nice," the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo was saying after the game. "We do well when we're relaxed, so today was a lot of fun."
• It was Roberto Clemente's birthday today. He would've been 85. And likely disappointed — by all of it, not just today.
• Obviously: All of them. Every last one of them. Even on a heartwarming night like this one.
• Richard Rodriguez (10-day IL, shoulder)
• Gregory Polanco (10-day IL, shoulder)
• Francisco Cervelli (60-day IL, concussion)
• Lonnie Chisenhall (60-day IL, calf)
Here's the most recent full report.
No breaks here. The Pirates are right back at it, taking on the Nationals at PNC Park Monday night at 7:05 p.m. Dejan Kovacevic will have that coverage, beginning with the opening of the clubhouse at 3:15 p.m.
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