On Wednesday, our Pittsburgh Pirates will host the San Francisco Giants in the wild card game, a one game playoff that will send the winner on their way to Washington for the real playoffs and the loser home to work on their golf swing. Over the next few days, there will be a ton of articles written about the two teams, how they match up against one another, and what the statistics say.
This game is a coin toss, just like it was last year. Dave Cameron at FanGraphs just posted the playoff/WS odds for the remaining teams; those odds include the estimates for both wild card games. I would encourage you to read the whole thing (and FanGraphs in general), but using two different models that account for the two teams’ sabermetric performances, the Pirates are 52/48 favorites to win on Wednesday. Coin toss.
Those numbers came from a computer. Here at TWNDAI, we don’t have computers as big as rooms or high-end algorithms to make such predictions. Instead, we (or rather, I, Tim) have MVP Baseball 2004 for the Nintendo GameCube.
Using this veritable time machine, I decided to simulate the game by playing as our Pittsburgh Pirates and hosting the loathsome San Francisco Giants. Upon inserting the disc, I was treated to a whimsical opening montage of a proposed Cubs/Red Sox World Series game. The scene was set to what I originally thought was an Offspring song. “Yes, this is 2004,” I thought.
The Pirates were ranked as the 31st best team in MVP 2004 (the AL and NL All-Stars were 1 and 2, respectively). In case you’re wondering, the Yankees were the best non-All-Star team, the Giants were 25th, the Tigers were 29th, the Brewers 30th, and the Reds 32nd. What a time to be the Cubs and Cardinals!
It’s worth noting a few things. MVP 2004 Baseball is the only baseball video game that I’ve ever owned. I was really bad at it. Part of that was my lack of experience with baseball games and the other part is owed to my refusal to play as a team other than the Pirates. I barely remembered the fairly involved controls, but it’s not like I ever had a good grasp on them in the first place. The real 2004 Pirates went 72-89 (a rare 161 game season) and the Giants won 91 games; that was, of course, the year that the Red Sox lifted their curse and swept the Cardinals in the World Series. Okay, the stage is set, on the the game!
The AI decided that Kip Wells would start the game for me/the Pirates, obviating any difficult decisions about using my better starter to try to win the division versus saving them for the wild card game. Ray Durham stepped into the box and we were on our way. Abandoning a more conventional strategy of fastball/change, I started the lefty with a slider low and away, but, forgetting the controls, hit Durham in the knee. Durham took 1st and JT Snow came to the plate. Cognizant of the runner, I wanted to make a pick off throw. Instead, I initiated the pitching sequence thing and hit Snow with a 4-seamer. The benches were warned and the Giants had two on with nobody out. I backed into a Dusty Baker strategy, of sorts. Marquis Grissom made me pay with an RBI single past Jack Wilson and brought
Barry Bonds John Dowd to the plate. Things looked bad.
Instead, Kip Wells dug deep and got Dowd to pop up to short. Edgardo Alfonzo hit a sac fly to make it 2-0 and AJ Pierzynski grounded out to short to end the inning. Not too bad.
The Pirates were up to bat. Rob Mackowiak, right fielder of the past, was leading off against Jason Schmidt, a frightening pig man.
Mackowiak singled firmly! Jason Kendall struck out, something that he rarely did in 2004, before Tike Redman put the Pirates on the board with a double into the right center gap! Jason Bay and Craig Wilson left Tike stranded at 2nd. Still, the Pirates got on the board and cut the Giants’ lead in half.
Things settled down for a few innings until the odious JT Snow came up to bat for the second time. Not wanting to face the lefty, I chose the one pitch IBB and plunked him in the head with a slider, leading to Kip Wells’ early departure. I had to go to the pen and had a tantalizing pool of arms to choose from:
Since this was a one game playoff, I opted to use a starter instead of a reliever. Into the game Oliver Perez came. He retired Grissom and struck out
On the other side of things, I couldn’t get much going against Jason Schmidt. My plate discipline was a bit rough and Jason Schmidt made me pay. With a runner on in the bottom of the 5th and 2 outs, I brought in recent acquisition, Bobby Hill to pinch hit for Oliver Perez. Hill lamentably popped out to 2nd to end the inning. This would prove to be much more costly than I initially realized.
Kris Benson, who was far and away the best pitcher on the ’04 Pirates, came in to pitch the 6th. Ray Durham singled, bringing up JT Snow. Benson, in a fit of rage, hit Snow with a fastball, leading to an unfortunate series of events: Benson was ejected, Snow left the game, the benches cleared, punches were (presumably) exchanged, and Jack Wilson, a well-known agitator, was also ejected. I had to bring in another pitcher and choose a new shortstop. Joe Beimel was already warming up in the pen, so he was the logical choice to replace Benson, but my options at short were pretty thin.
I had two outfielders, a portly 1B, and a back-up catcher. It was only then that my managerial mettle was truly tested. After some deliberation, I moved Craig Wilson over to short based solely on the fact that his last name was also Wilson and brought in Carlos Rivera to be the new first baseperson. Craig Wilson, as you probably remember, was a horrid defender, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Beimel retired Grissom on a weak grounder to 2nd. Abraham Nunez got the out at 2nd, putting runners on 1st and 3rd for John Dowd. And then it happened. Dowd hit a sharp grounder to short. Craig Wilson skillfully fielded it, flipped to Nunez at 2nd, and Nunez threw to 1st to complete the double play. CRAIG WILSON STARTED A DOUBLE PLAY AS THE SHORTSTOP. Elation washed over the pixelated PNC faithful.
Beimel wasn’t so fortunate in the top of the 7th. AJ Pierzynski hit a single to right that got past a diving Rob Mackowiak. Tike Redman got the ball in, but not before Pierzynski had himself a lead off triple. A Neifi Perez fly ball made it 3-1. Jason Bay, of course, didn’t have much in the way of a throwing arm.
A rally was needed and Abraham Nunez was leading off. Not the hero we asked for, huh? He singled to right in defiance of his own true talent. Pressing my luck, I paused the game to look up how to steal bases. Abraham Nunez and I went for it. Pierzynski ended up getting off a strong throw and nailed Nunez. It was a costly mistake, as two more singles were hit in the inning to no avail.
Josh Fogg pitched a pretty uninteresting inning, as he was wont to do. Craig Wilson made a nice stop ranging to his right at short and followed it up with an acrobatic jump throw to 1st. I think my ruse worked and I fooled MVP Baseball into thinking that Craig Wilson was in fact Jack Wilson; a y2k tactic that I will not soon forget.
The hit parade continued for the Pirates in the bottom of the 8th; Jason Bay, Chris Stynes, and Craig Wilson all singled to load the bases before Abraham Nunez popped up a high 2-0 fastball to short.
Fogg and then Ryan Vogelsong pitched the 9th and kept the Giants off of the board. Using Vogelsong in this game was, of course, controversial, as he is a member of the current SF Giants. Etiquette be damned. It was on to the bottom of the 9th.
Robb Nen took the mound for the save. Carlos Rivera was up. Nen struck him out on a 2-2 fastball. One out. Ryan Vogelsong’s spot was due up; Lloyd McClendon called for J.R. House to hit. He drew a full-count walk to put a runner on first. Rob Mackowiak stepped in and flared a ball to left to put runners on 1st and 2nd to bring up the only actually good hitter (in the eyes of this game) on the 2004 Pirates – Jason Kendall. The Kid was 0-4 with 2 K’s, which was not very Kendall-like. I decided to model his approach a little bit more and commit to taking the 1st pitch; it was, of course, a heater down the middle. He swung through the next two pitches to make the 2nd out. It was down to Tike Redman, who was batting 3rd. He took the 1st pitch – a low fastball – but the ump called it a strike. 0-1. He roped the 2nd pitch down the third base line, but the ump called it foul. Instant replay/challenges weren’t available. Redman took a pitch outside to make the count 1-2, but Nen blew him away with high heat on the next pitch to secure the win.
Final score: Giants 3, Pirates 1.
The face of victory followed by your totals:
So, there you have it. MVP Baseball 2004 and I simulated a 3-1 loss for our Pittsburgh Pirates. The triple to Pierzynski was fluky (he’s hit 23 in his 17 year career) and caused by the game’s weird controls (confusingly giving me an infielder to try to field it at first); I’m taking that run off of the board. Also, Robb Nen didn’t even play in the ’04 season! He blew out his arm for good in the 2002 World Series. Plus, the Pirates were horrible in that version of the game and fringe impossible to play as. If you gave them two extra base hits (since I banged out 11 singles), the game becomes a 4-2 Pirate victory, which is what I’m going with.