Pirate fans question Leyland's moves


ATLANTA -- Even before last night's Game 7 loss, Pirates manager Jim Leyland still couldn't catch a break from Pittsburgh fans.

Leyland managed the Pirates from a 3-1 hole against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series to last night's seventh game and still his managing strategies were being questioned.

Leyland said he received telegrams and calls from fans in Pittsburgh yesterday, beseeching him to start hot-hitting right-handed batting first baseman Gary Redus and right fielder Lloyd McClendon in last night's deciding game against Atlanta right-hander John Smoltz.

With Redus hitting .438 (7-for-16) and McClendon batting .727 (8-for-11) in the NLCS, it's good conjecture, but nothing that Leyland was willing to listen to. "It's good shop talk, but ask yourself this question: Does it make good sense to ask Gary Redus and Lloyd McClendon to face John Smoltz? I don't think it does," Leyland said before last night's game.

Leyland's point was that he has platooned in those two positions, with Orlando Merced at first and Alex Cole in right, and at catcher, with left-hander Mike LaValliere and right-handed hitting Don Slaught, all season and that it would have been unfair to change that approach just for one game.

"You have to remember that, yes, Gary and Lloyd have got those hits, but they've come against left-handed pitchers," Leyland said. "We've played this way for 168 games this year. Why would I change it now?"

A check of the Pirates' numbers seemed to back Leyland. LaValliere was hitting .419 against Smoltz before last night (13-for-31) and Merced .333 (7-for-21). Cole did not face Smoltz in the regular season, but was 2-for-7 (.286) against him before last night in the series.

By contrast, Slaught had never faced Smoltz, Redus was hitless in one at-bat and McClendon was hitting .167 (1-for-6).

Leyland's only lineup change last night was to insert Merced in the fifth slot behind Barry Bonds rather than Jeff King, who was only hitting .111 (1-for-11) against Smoltz.

So, how did Leyland's moves fare? Merced was 0-for-2, but drove in Cole for the Pirates' first run with a sacrifice fly in the first inning. Cole was 0-for-2, with a walk and LaValliere was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts.

Leyland said he also got suggestions that he should have lifted rookie knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who won Games 3 and 6, early Tuesday night, after the Pirates went ahead 8-0 in the second to have him available to pitch last night.

"We were in an oxygen tank and on intensive care," Leyland said. "If I had taken out Wakefield and we lost, I would have slit my throat or my players would have done it for me."

Umpire hospitalized

Plate umpire John McSherry left last night's game in the middle of the second inning, experiencing dizziness. He was taken to a hospital as a precautionary measure.

McSherry was replaced by first-base umpire Randy Marsh and right-field umpire Ed Montague moved in to cover both first base andthe right-field line.

Still waiting on the bench

Pirates bench coach Bill Virdon said yesterday that he still is waiting for word from the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins about their managerial posts.

Virdon, who managed the Pirates to the NL East crown in 1972 and the Houston Astros to the NL West title in 1980, has interviewed with both expansion teams, but has not heard from either.

"They've given me no indication that they wouldn't hire me, but that doesn't mean anything," Virdon said.

Virdon, 61, hasn't managed since 1984 with the Montreal Expos, but he is known for his ability to work with younger players, a skill necessary to run an expansion team.

Chopping the chant

The great Tomahawk Chop Chant Controversy has mercifully been resolved.

As you'll remember, Braves fans were up in arms last week, contending that Carolyn King, organist at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, was playing the chant for the tomahawk chop in such a key as to make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to chant along.

One resourceful fan, a banker named Scott Taccati, phoned Florida State University, from whence the tomahawk chop and chant originated, to get the melody. School officials wouldn't give Taccati the entire melody, citing pending copyright protection, but they did tell him the first note, and he figured out the rest.

At any rate, fans were choppin' and chantin' in near perfect unison for the past two nights.

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