MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

It was a good series for the Baltimore Orioles, winning two out of three; but it was also a great ending to the series for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who won one out of three.

On Sunday, the Pirates needed a win, having lost 11 of the previous 12 games, and it happened because the Pirates starting pitcher Mitch Keller pretty much put things to rest in the first inning. Keller made the Orioles look tired, worn out and disinterested …

It was a good series top to bottom and both teams got what they wanted – in the end. The Orioles rode their improved starting pitching and their bullpen, as well as their timely hitting and good defense to win the first two games. The Pirates received good pitching in all three games, but on Sunday, finally, their bats came to life. Enough.

Yes, they scored just four runs because Orioles starter Kyle Gibson battled through not having his best stuff and held the Bucs to four – this in spite of Pittsburgh’s aggressive approach at the plate from the beginning, battling and chipping away, and putting balls into play. The Pirates forced the action and it paid off for them.

What really paid off for them was Keller, one of the most impressive starters I’ve seen so far this season. This guy looks to be the goods. He works at a natural and aggressive pace. He goes after hitters; he doesn’t nibble, because he trusts his stuff.

Keller should trust his stuff, for it seems to be coming into its own at age 27. On Sunday, he went seven strong, but he had complete-game stuff from the beginning. He had ace stuff. He had the right stuff that his team needed on Sunday.

The Pirates have now won just two of the last 13 games. Mitch Keller has been the winning pitcher in both of those wins.

Every team in the big leagues has stretches when they win one or two, or three games in the matter of a couple of weeks or so, and the Pirates are no different. This isn’t to suggest they’re going to go on a 15-of-20 winning binge beginning Tuesday in Detroit; but they might.

This is a good Pittsburgh Pirates team, and it’s going to be better because, finally, Pirates ownership is showing real ownership by signing and extending their young – Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes and even minor-league catcher Henry Davis just to name a few.

The Pirates are battling and they’re grinding the way winning baseball teams are supposed to do. The winning culture is being formed. You could see that in the way the club came out with so much focus on Sunday and made the Orioles look lethargic, beginning with Keller’s performance.

The Pirates are there in the hunt and they’re going to stay in the hunt because they are legitimate and they are getting better each day – they have good starting pitching, a strong bullpen (the Orioles won the series in spite of scoring eight runs in three games) and they play good defense.

Earlier in the season, the Pirates were even more sound defensively, particularly up the middle. Not only that, they had quite a bit more pop offensively for some reason; but THAT’S right! They lost their best player, shortstop Oneil Cruz, for at least four months to a fractured ankle.

Think about that. Think about how different the recently-completed series against the Orioles could have been for the Pirates had Cruz been healthy. Think about the possibilities of the entire season had Cruz not been injured.

But, as my sainted mother used to say, “If, dog, rabbit.” Injuries happen. Part of the game. Part of life. Ask Mickey Mantle.

In the meantime, we’re pretty fortunate right now, we baseball fans here in 2 Hours from Everything, because we have two real-good young and talented baseball teams in Baltimore and in Pittsburgh to root for. And if the Washington Nationals are your gig, don’t hold your breath this year, but things look pretty good there for the near future as well.

All in all, the Orioles-Pirates three-game series over the weekend provided everything everybody here needed – the Orioles won the series, but the Pirates, I believe, are ready to get it going again very soon.

The future for both clubs is bursting with potential and with hope. We just saw the best of both worlds this past weekend.

One small, but annoying, complaint: I think I speak for a lot of Orioles fans when I say, ixnay on the Mr. Splash “A Star is Born” nonsense. This guy ain’t Wild Bill Hagy. He’s contrived. Let’s move on.

You want to get people who want to be hosed down in your ballpark and don’t mind spending money? Good. More power to you. But we’ve already seen far more of Mr. Splash than we ever wanted to see.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT