Share This Page

Biertempfel: Visit to Los Angeles in 2007 proved unheavenly for Bucs

| Saturday, June 22, 2013, 11:33 p.m.
AP file
The Pirates' Adam LaRoche reacts after striking out during the seventh inning against the Angels on June 23, 2007, in Anaheim. The series may have marked a low point in the Pirates' stretch of 20 straight losing seasons.
Pirates pitcher Ian Snell wipes his face after giving up his fifth run to the Los Angeles Angels during the second inning on Saturday, June 23, 2007, in Anaheim, Calif.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Over the past 20 seasons, there have been more valleys than peaks for the Pirates. There was the 20-0 loss at home against the Brewers in 2010. The Aramis Ramirez trade. Jim Leyland's resignation. “Operation Shutdown” and “Jerry Meals says he's safe!” Bryan Bullington. Chad Hermansen. Daniel Moskos.

One of the lowest points happened exactly six years ago, right here at Angels Stadium. It also was a seminal moment in the franchise's turnaround.

On June 22-24, 2007, the Pirates were swept by the Angels in three very different games. In the opener, the Pirates blew a three-run lead and lost, 5-4, in 11 innings. The next day, they were embarrassed, 10-1. In the finale, they fought back to tie the game in the ninth inning, only to lose, 4-3, in the 10th.

After the middle game, the blowout, the clubhouse doors stayed closed a bit longer than usual. I remember there being a palpable sense of tension when the media finally were allowed inside. Guys were avoiding each other's eyes. Voices were hoarse from shouting.

The season was not yet halfway over, but it had hit rock bottom.

“I (expletive) hate this, and you can put that in the paper,” said pitcher Ian Snell, who gave up five runs in six innings that day. “I (expletive) hate losing. I hate when the team doesn't bring out its full potential. If they want to fine me, fine me. I don't care because this is getting stupid.”

Said Adam LaRoche: “When you lose, everything gets magnified, and you start questioning — questioning yourself, questioning each other.”

The season was finished. That team and its leadership were finished. The Pirates limped out of Southern California with a 31-44 record and ended up 68-94.

A monument to unfulfilled potential, the 2007 rotation included Snell (9-12, 3.76), Zach Duke (3-8, 5.53), Tom Gorzelanny (14-10, 3.88) and Paul Maholm (10-15, 5.02). John Van Benschoten (0-7, 10.15) and Tony Armas (4-5, 6.03) took turns tossing batting practice in the No. 5 spot. At the trade deadline, general manager Dave Littlefield tried to shore up the staff by acquiring $10 million righty Matt Morris.

That didn't work out very well, as you might recall.

Six years later, a lot has changed. The Morris trade was the last in a series of missteps that cost Littlefield his job. Manager Jim Tracy was fired days after the '07 debacle ended. A dozen players from that team are still in baseball — including LaRoche, who last year tied for sixth in the NL MVP voting — but none is with the Pirates.

The 2007 Pirates were the product of an ill-equipped and mismanaged front office and a talent-starved farm system. At that time, the Pirates barely had a presence in Latin America; its headquarters in the Dominican Republic was a crumbling shack. At the big league level, there was too little camaraderie and grit — and no magic — in the clubhouse.

Six years have passed, and the Pirates still have not produced a winning season. But the problems that plagued the 2007 club and that came to a head on that long, hot weekend at Angel Stadium are gone. Now, at least, the franchise is moving forward.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.