TOP OF THE FIFTH: MARLINS 3
(1) – 2 PIRATES
The Pittsburgh skyline, with its yellow bridges and clustered office buildings, looks in on PNC Park and sees a sorry sight: the hometown Pirates, in mid-table struggle and fading, wearing the kind of outfit concocted from nightmares. Bright yellow baggy tops. Jet black baggy pants. Black shoes. The old kepi hats, striped yellow and black. Ryan Vogelsong hiking up his slipping pants after each pitch, with the elastic waistband too loose—and appearing, as the live-feed pixels blur out for a moment, like a big banana, dipped in tar.
The flags in the breeze above centerfield flutter, sigh, and go dead, at the whole sight of the thing. The nine things, out on the field together, an act of public vandalism in the most beautiful park in the bigs. The scenery marred by bile.
Bruh the Pirates got on some of the ugliest uniforms I’ve ever seen in my life!!
— Isaac E Gutierrez (@Isaac7G) August 21, 2016
The two teams, Miami and Pittsburgh, sit a slim few games out of a playoff spot with just over a month of baseball to play, with the Marlins taking the first two of the head-to-head. And here today the home crowd see the coming fate, again, for what’ll now be the fourth straight year—the great pain of a talent-heavy letdown.
These great fans, it should be mentioned, know too well how to deck out a ballpark with the kind of bright… somethingness it deserves. A top three emerges right away, for at least this one game, rivaling all comers from the other twenty-nine parks.
Number three: A big, proud, balding man in a Hawaiian t-shirt (top center), that says Cancun, Cabo, Montego Bay, Oahu—a daydream teleporter beamed from seaside Margaritaville into the overcast afternoon of Pennsylvania.
Number two: A kid, or man-kid (center-left), wearing the neon green bird hat that’s been making the rounds at PNC Park, a kind of pirate-parrot reference that’s hopped up from the shoulder and onto, even around, the whole head.
And number one: A rare, very rare, appearance from Darth Helmet himself—Rick Moranis in costume behind the backstop, barking out a single order to each batter that strides up to bat: “Comb the desert!!”
On the field, before this elite trio and some twenty-thousand others, the beginnings of trouble inch ahead—deeper trouble, the kind of late-August quicksand from which the Pirates may never escape.
Adeiny Hechavarria comes up first for Miami, slaps a ground ball to short, Sean Rodriguez gloves it, and whips the ball low and errant, and he dashes in safe to first with another deep sigh around the stadium. One on, no out.
Jose Urena sac-bunts to first base, Hechavarria advances.
And then Dee Gordon. With another Marlins bunt, this time to third, as Vogelsong sprints in to field it, barehanded, and Gordon sprints down the line, too quick for a throw—no play at first or third. Everyone safe, as Hechavarria runs on to third.
The Pirates, this great Pirates generation, about to be swept, sunken, overtaken, bombed out and all sides leaking. The victims, they can’t quite believe, of a great navy of fish. Marlin. Armed and en masse, stabbing and prodding nose blades into the hull, edging the ugly way into another win.
What a backdrop. 👌 pic.twitter.com/9dOM6kewgH
— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) August 21, 2016
Up next comes Martin Prado, whose name—first name—sits up on the pedestal of almost-almost-almost team-name names, with Steven Matz the closest behind and Marlon Byrd a trade away from the top spot. He blows big blue gum bubbles in the on-deck circle, and steps up to bat as Vogelsong winds up and Dee Gordon swipes second on the first pitch, with a late throw from Cervelli at home.
Runners on second and third, now, one out, as Prado sets up. Eyes it, steps, swings, and knocks a ground ball to third for a run and an out—Hechavarria trots home to score, and a bit of small-ball ties things up at 2-2. Christian Yelich follows, with two outs, coming off a first-inning home run. Vogelsong sneering. Nostrils flared. Having just missed the double play. Thirty-nine years old and his pants sagging again. And again, after the second pitch, snatching the waistband and giving a yank.
He looks for the signals, deals to Yelich on a 3-1 count, and it’s ball four—no contest outside. Men on first and third.
And with Marcell Ozuna up, the tie-game just barely hanging on still, it’s a wild pitch bounced spinning hard in front of the plate, bounced onto the dirt, off the catcher’s mitt, off the umpire’s ankle, onto the grass, rolled to the backstop, and there’s the flashing sight of Dee Gordon barreling down the line and sliding in safe for the third Miami run and the lead, 3-2, that final maddening score that would end up unchanged all game.
Vogelsong hikes his pants up one last time that inning, beside a Pirates team stretched out beyond their means, and scream-prays to the gods of the textiles, the uniforms, the sports marketing, all at once: No. More. Damn. Elastic. Please. Please. Please. Please.