Harang sticks pin in Pirates' offense
Reds' ace goes distance, allows two hits, fans eight in 8-0 shutout
Thursday, August 30, 2007
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Every once in a while, it really is about the other guy.
Aaron Harang went head-on with an offense having an awesome August, one slugging at a pace unprecedented in the franchise's first 120 years, and ... well, suffice it to say that good pitching absolutely smoked good hitting in Cincinnati's 8-0 silencing of the Pirates last night at PNC Park.
Make that great pitching.
The Reds' ace conceded a total of two hits -- Jason Bay's fifth-inning double and Matt Kata's sixth-inning bloop single -- while coasting to a 94-pitch shutout in which he struck out eight, threw three-quarters of those pitches over the plate and, maybe most remarkable, threw 22 of 29 first-pitch strikes.
Matt Belisle, Cincinnati's starter tonight and the man responsible for charting Harang last night, playfully barked at him after the game, "You're unbelievable, man. I hate you."
It was, by any measure, the most dominant performance against the Pirates all season.
"Give credit where it's due," manager Jim Tracy said. "Aaron Harang was terrific. With what we've been doing this month ... man, give him credit. That guy's a workhorse, and he doesn't get enough credit."
No exaggeration there.
Harang, a clear Cy Young candidate with a 14-3 record that represents the Reds' best winning percentage since Tom Seaver in 1981, did not receive a single Cy Young vote last season despite leading the National League in victories and strikeouts.
Well, Harang might have earned a few last night, if anyone was appreciating his finer points:
*** In the fourth, Freddy Sanchez, Major League Baseball's hits leader this month with 44, flailed over a curveball that bounced 3 feet in front of the plate. It took all Sanchez had to remain standing.
*** Jose Bautista, batting .295 this month, struck out his first two times up on seven total pitches, caught looking each time. By a fastball.
*** After Bay's one-out double, the Pirates' only solidly struck ball all night, Harang whiffed Ronny Paulino and Cesar Izturis, going right after Izturis even though pitcher Ian Snell was on deck.
*** He even struck out Josh Phelps, who had been pounding baseballs at a .535 clip this month. This after opening the count with two balls.
Harang does not have spectacular stuff, his fastball averaging 90 mph and his breaking stuff not much more dazzling. But his deception factor -- shortstop Jack Wilson described his ability to hide the ball from the hitter as "unfair" -- makes everything harder to recognize, much less track.
"He did it all," Bautista said. "He was spotting his fastball, making us chase bad pitches, getting us to lay off good ones ... everything. No excuses. We got beat."
"Everything he threw went for strikes," Kata said. "Everything."
So much for those 176 runs and 43 home runs against everyone else this month.
Harang clearly was aware of the Pirates' production of late but, just as clearly, he shrugged it off.
"You always want to get ahead of anyone you're facing," he said. "When those guys are going, they can hit with the best of them, and their guys in the Nos. 3-5 spots have some pop. But I wasn't going to change anything I was doing."
Snell took a step back from four encouraging starts, lasting 5 1/3 innings and allowing seven runs on 10 hits.
And, in yet another strange twist to his strange season, he explained that he was distracted by a brief pregame argument with reliever Shawn Chacon, his best friend on the team.
The two exchanged a few loud words in the clubhouse, which was still open to the media at the time, as Chacon was walking by Snell's stall. The topic was not clear to any observers but, whatever it was, it was finished after a few seconds. Chacon kept walking.
Snell said he settled down somewhat after speaking with pitching coach Jim Colborn and reliever Salomon Torres, but not enough.
"It was immature for me to carry that out onto the field," Snell said. "I shouldn't have done that. I let down my team."
Snell and Chacon each declined to discuss the matter other than to say there would be no lingering issue.
"No problems," Snell said.
"It's cool," Chacon said.
Snell spotted Cincinnati a three-run head start with the Reds' first three batters: Josh Hamilton walked, Alex Gonzalez singled, and Ken Griffey Jr. casually lifted a 1-0 changeup above the Clemente Wall for his 592nd home run.
"I just didn't have it, right off the bat," Snell said.
Hamilton opened the fifth with an infield single toward third and took two extra bases when Bautista's throw went into foul territory. Gonzalez hit a sacrifice fly and, one out later, Brandon Phillips lined a 1-1 fastball beyond center field to put Cincinnati ahead, 5-0.
Snell was pulled with one out in the sixth after loading the bases, and Shane Youman allowed two of those runners to score.
The Pirates still can take their fourth consecutive series with the finale tonight.