Interleague play is suddenly upon us again. You can read my thoughts on the entire thing here. Like it or not though, it’s back for one series at least this weekend.

One of the matchups I actually look forward to is the Pirates-Tigers, which is slowly becoming an annual rematch of the classic 1909 World Series! Yes, that was the year that Honus Wagner bested Ty Cobb’s Tigers 4-games-to-3 for the Pirates first championship.

With the Tigers in town, I will be at PNC Park all weekend for the festivities. The Pirates already got a leg up in the series with a 10-1 victory Friday night thanks to Neil Walker’s two-run double and three-run home run to lead the way. Can Walker duplicate his efforts tonight during his bobblehead giveaway?

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I haven’t talked much about the Pirates yet this season on here and maybe that’s me being selfish and not wanting to jinx their decent start, but after the series that just concluded I can’t steer away from talking about it.

The 2011 Pirates team is a hard one to figure out. They opened the season at Wrigley Field with a come-from-behind win over the Cubs that featured Neil Walker‘s grand slam, only the second Pirates player to ever hit a grand slam on Opening Day joining Roberto Clemente. The Pirates held the lead the next game until a major collapse in the eighth inning by reliever Evan Meek as the Cubs evened the series. But just when you thought that was a game to derail this team already, they rallied in the rubber match for two runs off Carlos Marmol in the ninth inning to give them a road series win.

The Buccos then flew out to St. Louis and took two-of-three from the Cardinals. Huh? Yes, the Pirates opened the season with two road series wins. That would have been unheard of last season when they won just a total of four series on the road all year.

So the Pirates came to Pittsburgh for the home opener against the Rockies with all the promise and hype from their great start on the road. And they absolutely laid in an egg. It started with the very first pitch from Paul Maholm, which was promptly lined into center field for a base hit, and ended with the Rockies cruising to a 7-1 win that included a rookie pitcher (Esmil Rogers) mowing down the Pirates lineup. There was pretty much nothing the Pirates did right in their opener. They rebounded the next night to win in extra innings (14 to be exact) and then dropped the next two games to Colorado in close games.

After a day off and a rainout against Milwaukee, the Pirates and Brewers finally played a couple of games though the Bucs offense basically took two days off. The Pirates were shut out in game one by Marcum and then blanked by Randy Wolf in the last game of the series. In fact, their only run of the two games came in the ninth inning of the last game on a wild pitch. Absolutely brutal.

The Pirates were sitting at 5-7 with a weekend four-game series in Cincinnati looming, so naturally I had the “this season is over” feeling. But the Pirates instead come out and take three-out-of-four from the first place Reds, winning another road series and getting back to .500 at 8-8. The offense produced six, seven and nine runs in the wins while the pitching staff saw TWO complete games (one from Charlie Morton and Kevin Correia each). If you’ve been a Pirates fan over the years, I don’t have to tell you how rare it is to see their pitching toss two CGs in one series.

Then came this three-game series against the Fish in Florida. The Pirates offense forgot to show up in the first two. I can understand the first game, they were shut down by Josh Johnson. He dominates most teams in the NL. But they also kept the bats in the hotel the next night against Ricky Nolasco and didn’t score five runs until they were already down 9-1 in the series finale. They were easily swept out of Florida while being outscored 21-5, including two shutouts. It was just a horrendous series to watch.

Heading into the season, I thought the one area of the team that would be fun to watch would be the hitting. While the big question everyone was wondering would be if the pitching would hold up. Well, 19 games into the season the pitching hasn’t been bad at all. Like I said, two complete games already is just one stat that is mind-boggling as a Pirates fan. They had just one all of last season.

But the alarming thing for me has been the complete disappearance of the bats out of nowhere. Basically being shut out two straight games against the Brewers at home, followed up by another two shutouts the next week against Florida will not cut it at all. You just can’t do that twice in a month. They cannot have those power outages all year if they are to stay around .500 this season.

So they stand at 8-11 this weekend with a homestand against the Nationals and defending champs Giants. My viewpoint on this season is to see significant improvement from the young talented core of McCutchen, Tabata, Alvarez, Walker, Hanrahan, Meek, Morton, McDonald, etc. And at times this month, this team just looks like different from other recent years, but then suddenly the floor drops out and it begins to look like every other year too. I honestly don’t know what to expect next from this group. I just hope they avoid the canyon (the massive free fall losing streak they usually get themselves in) and hover around .500 for most of the season.

LEAD OFF

It didn’t take Adam Dunn very long to adapt to that American League pitching. The White Sox big free agent pickup in the offseason belted a two-run bomb in his second at-bat and doubled in two runs in his next as the White Sox cruised to a wild 15-10 beat down of the Indians in Cleveland. The Chi Sox ran out to a 14-0 lead with two early touchdowns and then came up with a late defensive stand to hold off the Browns Indians. The Sox rapped out 18 hits while the Indians record 17 of their own in a game that featured 20 runs, 25 hits and four home runs.

Cleveland Opening Day starter Fausto Carmona gave up 10 runs in 3.0 innings. According to B-R’s Play Index, it was the most runs allowed by a starting pitcher on Opening Day since 1948. Wow. Early Wynn gave up 12 runs against the Yankees on April 19, 1948.

NOTABLE DEBUTS

Tsuyoshi Nishioka: 1-for-4, K, 1 error

The Japanese pickup did not have the debut he was looking for as he had one single while batting second for the Twins while also recording a fielding error.

QUESTION:

Pirates second baseman Neil Walker became just the second Pirates player to hit a grand slam on Opening Day. Who was the first?

QUICK HIT

Brett Myers made his fourth Opening Day start at Citizens Bank Park, but with the visiting team this time around. Myers was the Phillies Opening Day starter from ’07-09 and yesterday started on the road for the Astros. Myers pitched well against his former team as well and left with the lead only to see Philly rally in the bottom of the ninth off the Astros bullpen.

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

The Blue Jays are at it again. After leading the Majors last year in team home runs with 257, the Jays blasted four home runs in a 13-3 blowout over the Twins in Toronto. Jose Bautista started early to quiet his critics about a ridiculous 2010 fluke year with his first home run of the season.

ANSWER:

Arriba! Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente was the first Pirate to hit a grand slam on Opening Day when he accomplished this feat on April 10, 1962 in a 6-0 victory over the Phillies at Forbes Field. Clemente ripped the blast off Phillies starter Jim Owens in the bottom of the third inning.

In just his 58th major league game, Pirates rookie second baseman Neil Walker recorded five hits Tuesday night against the Brewers at PNC Park. The hometown kid ripped a double and single in the Pirates nine-run first inning and added three singles throughout the game to complete the 5-for-5 performance.

The former first round pick from 2004 became the 91st player since 1920 to record five hits or more in the player’s first 58 career games. The full list can be found here thanks to Baseball Reference’s Play Index. Bob Oliver of the Royals in 1969 and Jim Fridley of Indians in 1952 are the only two players to record six hits in their first 58 games. Fridley only appeared in the majors for three seasons while Oliver actually made his debut with the Pirates before moving on to the Royals. Tigers outfielder Austin Jackson was the last player to accomplish the feat earlier this year on April 30 against the Angels.

There are some well-known notables on this list as well. Andre Ethier, Curtis Granderson, Mark Reynolds, Fred Lewis, Juan Pierre and Ryan Theriot are some of the active players, but then you have some Hall of Famers in Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron. Even the A’s GM Billy Beane shows up on the list with his 5-for-5 performance in 1986 during his brief playing career. And remember the Diamondbacks infielder Junior Spivey? How could you not with that name…he actually shows up twice on the list with two 5-hit games in a two-month span. Despite those two stellar games, Spivey still only managed to hit .258 in his rookie year of 2001. Of course, he only lasted five season in the bigs with his last year coming with the Nationals in ’05.

One trend that seems to be a key in 5-for-5 games is a lopsided or crooked final linescore. David Murphy had five hits in the Rangers 30-3 dismantling of the Orioles back in 2007. If you remember correctly that game was just game one of a doubleheader. Long day right there. Ben Francisco of the Indians did it in a 15-9 win over Texas in 2008. Fridley’s six-hit performance was a 21-9 football score in ’52.

Also, Of the 91 games on the list only 16 of those players experienced a loss in their game. Juan Encarnacion did it for the Tigers in 1998, but saw his team lose to the White Sox 17-16. Like I said, lot of bizarre high scores on this list.

Anyway, it was a great night for Walker in his young career. I love how an individual feat like Walker’s can bring so many old names up and memorable games with a little research.