June 28, 1979: Pirates Lose a Game But Add a Mad Dog

The Pirates dropped the second and last game of their home series with the Mets, 3-2.  There was other news, though, as the team completed a six-player trade with San Francisco that brought in two-time batting champion Bill Madlock.

First, the game.  Jim Bibby had a shaky start for the Bucs, the worst of it coming in the first inning.  Two singles, a double and a wild pitch put the Pirates behind, 2-0.  Bibby had to deal with a lot of baserunners after that — two in every inning from the second through the fourth — but kept working out of trouble.

The Pirates also were stranding their share of runners against Mets’ starter Kevin Kobel.  They left two on in both the first and third.  They finally got on the board when Bill Robinson led off the bottom of the fourth with his 17th home run.  A single by Phil Garner two batters later chased Kobel and brought in Neil Allen.

The score held at 2-1 through six.  Bibby stranded two more runners in the top of the sixth.  In the bottom half, the Pirates ran themselves out of an inning.  Tim Foli led off with a double, but got thrown out at the plate two batters later when Robinson singled.  Robinson went to second on the throw, but got picked off moments later.  Both Foli and Garner had been caught stealing earlier in the game, so that made four runners thrown out on the bases.

Bibby pitched into the seventh.  He got two out, helped when Steve Nicosia caught Lee Mazzilli stealing after a walk.  After the second out, though, John Stearns homered to put New York ahead, 3-1.  A single by the next hitter brought Enrique Romo on to finish the inning.

The Pirates got that run back in the bottom half.  A walk to John Milner and a single by Rennie Stennett put two on with one out.  Chuck Tanner sent Ed Ott to hit for Nicosia against the right-handed Allen.  The Mets countered with left-hander Ed Glynn.  Ott beat the strategy with an RBI single.  Glynn did, however, fan Willie Stargell, who batted for Romo, and then got Omar Moreno on a grounder.

The Bucs had a final chance in the ninth, after a one-out infield hit by Garner.  Matt Alexander ran for him and stole second and third.  He got thrown out at home, though, on Rennie Stennett’s grounder.  Glynn then got the better of Ott in a second matchup, striking him out to end the game.

Bibby dropped to 3-2.  The Pirates fell six and a half games behind the Expos.

The Pirates made a big move before the game.  They sent three pitchers — right-handers Ed Whitson and Fred Breining, and lefty Al Holland — to the Giants for infielders Bill Madlock and Lenny Randle, and left-hander Dave Roberts.

The headliner is, of course, Madlock.  The 28-year-old has batted over .300 every year he’s been in the majors.  That includes batting titles in 1975-76 with the Cubs, with averages of .354 and .339, respectively.  He played third for the Cubs, but when the Giants acquired him in a deal that included Bobby Murcer, they moved him to second.  Last year, the man known as Mad Dog batted .309 for San Francisco, with 15 home runs.  This year so far has been easily the weakest of his career.  He’s carrying a 261/309/398 line.

The Pirates are expected to move Madlock back to third.  Current third baseman Phil Garner will return to his original position, second base.  The move pushes Rennie Stennett to the bench.  Stennett has continued the struggles that began with a broken leg nearly two years ago.  Including today’s game, he’s batting just 236/283/288.

The Pirates have assigned Randle to their AAA affiliate at Portland.  So far he’d spent the season in AAA with the Giants.  Randle was a regular with Texas from 1974-76 and with the Mets from 1977-78.  He’s probably best known, unfortunately, for punching Rangers manager Frank Lucchesi in 1977, which spurred the trade to the Mets.

Roberts is a veteran who was a solid or better starter for the Padres, Astros, Tigers and Cubs from 1970-77.  His best year was 1971, when he went 14-17, 2.10 for a 100-loss San Diego team.  In 1978, Roberts went 6-8, 5.25 for the Cubs.  The Giants this year moved him to the bullpen, with the exception of one start, and he’s done better, with a 2.57 ERA and three saves.

The 24-year-old Whitson spent most of last year and all of this year so far with the Pirates.  A promising starter in the minors, the team used him strictly in relief when he was in the majors in 1978, and he went 5-6-4, 3.28.  This year, he started off in the bullpen, but has mostly started since mid-May.  He’s currently 2-3-1 with a 4.37 ERA.

Breining is 23 and was a third-round draft pick of the Pirates in 1974.  He worked his way up last year to AAA, where he had a rough time.  The Pirates sent him back to AA this year and he’s gone 5-4, 2.63.

The Pirates signed Holland in 1975 after he was twice drafted by other teams and didn’t sign.  He made two relief appearances for the Pirates in 1977, but went back to AAA last year and again this year.

To make room for Madlock, the Pirates are sending Dale Berra to AAA.  He’s struggled so far this year, batting 196/272/283 with nine errors, many of them costly, in limited time in the field.  Roberts will replace Whitson on the major league roster.