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The Pittsburgh Pirates, acrobatics, and the enduring beauty of life

Appreciate the little things, like David Freese momentarily joining the Harlem Globetrotters.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates are 52-48. They sit 2.5 games out of yet another Wild Card berth, and eight games behind a division leader that may very well be unstoppable. Yes, the Cubs were always going to the table in the NL Central as the odds-on favorites, but it was the Pirates who were supposed to be playing a strong second fiddle. Instead, they find themselves in the third chair playing underlying harmonies in Chicago’s symphony along with the second-place Cardinals.

The pitching staff has been the picture of inconsistency, and it seems there's always someone else going down with an injury. Andrew McCutchen has been shockingly bland, hitting to just a 98 wRC+. Yes, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco have been hitting the daylights out of the ball, but it doesn’t feel right without McCutchen, and the results certainly don’t look right.

Indeed, 2016 may be remembered in Pittsburgh as the year Ray Searage’s fell magic wore off, and the year that the Pirates weren’t even afforded the luxury of being obliterated in a one-game playoff by say, Jose Fernandez. Yet they’ll always have this moment:

Twice more, with feeling!

Yesterday, David Freese showed the world that he has Bartolo Colon levels of behind-the-back skills, and Gerrit Cole showed that his hand-eye coordination is just as good as you’d always assumed. Freese misplayed an odd hop off the bat of Nori Aoki, but recovered in time to earn style points in his pass to Cole. Let’s break it down beat by beat.

This is the moment where Freese realizes his mistake. Nobody can really truly be at fault for fudging a play when Aoki is involved, yes, but Freese tried to backhand the chopper while ranging to his left. That’s asking for trouble. Now, with Aoki baring down the line and Cole dashing for first, the neurons in Freese’s brain are firing at light speed.

Task one: pick up the baseball. He does this, but the neurons are still working overtime, mashing away at their metaphysical keyboards like the famous infinite monkeys in front of their famous infinite typewriters, all of them hopped up on adrenaline. One of them may be accidentally writing Shakespeare, but another is telling Freese how to field this ball.

That monkey is also on more than a little crack cocaine. This is what he tells Freese to do.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the strangely blissful beauty of this image. There are almost no scenarios on a baseball field that could theoretically lead to an infielder striking this pose. It almost looks as if Freese is not the one in the midst of throwing the ball, but the one catching it. Perhaps he’s being fed a lateral pass, and he’s meant to slip past some defenders on his way to home plate. Perhaps there’s some sort of baseball baton race, and he’s about to make a break for second, and Jordy Mercer damn well be ready to stop him.

No, he’s throwing that baseball. See how the ball looks as if it’s rolling off his fingers? See the look of utter panic on his face as he realizes mid-action exactly what the hell he’s doing? Sports!

Never fear, Gerrit Cole is here! The panic on Freese’s face has now dissipated into a blank stare, as his eyes and brain work in conjunction to instantly and simultaneously project the trajectory of both the flying baseball and Cole’s palm, calculating whether or not this whole harebrained play will possibly not end up on blooper reels for years to come. Maybe he’s also tracking Aoki out of the corner of his eye. Maybe he’s trying to remember if he turned the oven off at home. We’ll never know for sure, because nobody asked him about the expression his face at that very moment after the game, because the writers were much more concerned with the ten runs that Pirates posted in their walloping of the Mariners. Or, conversely, with Gerrit Cole’s complete game.

Joy of joys, Cole caught the ball! What’s more, he beat Aoki to first, never really breaking stride through the entire affair. The play was just like the Pirates drew it up in Spring Training, Freese throwing from behind his back while hunched over at a 90 degree angle and all. It’s one of the most routine plays in baseball, if baseball was played by roving troupes of Russian acrobats stationed at each base.

(You know, someone should get on making that happen. Looking at you, Mr. Manfred, after all, everything is 'being discussed'.)

It was a good day for Pirates fans, a good day nestled into a season that’s had almost as many bad days as good ones, and even more good ones tarnished with bad news. There was a three-for-one bargain at the good feeling store. Ten runs! A Cole complete game! David Freese threw a ball around his rear!

Even as baseball, sports, life, the universe, and everything seek to drag the human spirit down, David Freese will throw a hook shot around his posterior and make things feel better just for a little while. There is beauty and grace in places we don’t always expect. This visual joy, even when it takes ridiculous forms, is worth celebrating and cherishing. It’s something worth smiling and laughing about, isn’t it, Josh Harrison?

I couldn’t agree more.


Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also writes for Baseball Prospectus and BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.