Friday Insider: Four years or bust with Martin 185

San Diego Padres v Pittsburgh Pirates

Russell Martin, the Pirates’ catcher, can become a free agent as soon as next week. — GETTY IMAGES


fridayinsiderA weekly feature aimed at rounding up a whole lot of odds and ends from a whole lot of time around our local teams …

• The Pirates know what Russell Martin will cost, at least as it relates to term, and that’s four years, according to my sources. So start any debate about whether or not the team can/can’t, should/shouldn’t sign him right there.

And if one applies that term to the $15.3 million salary he’s guaranteed to make in 2015 per the qualifying offer the Pirates will make — a no-brainer which, hilariously, was presented as headline-worthy by one national outlet in the past week — that projects to pretty much the same four years and $60 million you’ve seen me type in this space for three months now as the most likely figures.

That’s it. That’s the price tag. At least, it’s the one that’s going to be seen as the market rate.

And all this gears up, ready or not, as early as next week. Five days after the World Series ends.


Column: Pitt defense rising up in Year 2014 A.D. 20

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh

K.K. Mosley-Smith pressures Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer last Thursday at Heinz Field. — GETTY IMAGES


The nose tackle, as defined by his place on the field, is supposed to be swarmed by the opposition, surrounded by his supporting cast. He’s at the center of it all, consuming one, two, even three blockers so the big bodies behind him can break free.

Aaron Donald, as defined by his place in college football, was an absolute freak at Pitt.

And that might never have been better evident than a year ago at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium, when No. 97 recorded 11 tackles, six for losses, one for a sack and two forced fumbles.

The punchline: Every single one of those tackles was a solo.

“Man,” current junior defensive lineman Darryl Render was musing of his old mate the other day on the South Side, “that was just A.D. being A.D. It was all him.”

Right. And that was the problem.

“Yeah, we know,” Render said upon my mentioning that. “But I’ll tell you: It’s made us a better defense this year. I believe that. We’ve got it together.”

The numbers support him: Heading into this year’s ACC matchup between Pitt (4-3, 2-1) and Georgia Tech (5-2, 2-2) on Saturday at Heinz Field — kickoff 3:32 p.m. — the Panthers own the NCAA’s No. 4 rank for total defense by allowing 280.4 yards per game, they’re 14th in scoring defense at 18.6 points, seventh in pass defense, seventh in preventing third-down conversions.


Column: Exorcising Flyers isn’t exactly optional 119

Philadelphia Flyers v Pittsburgh Penguins

The Flyers’ R.J. Umberger raps the winning goal past Marc-Andre Fleury on Wednesday. — GETTY IMAGES


It was Friday the 13th in May of 2011, and the Pirates were in Milwaukee’s Miller Park, their own house of horrors that never needed a Freddy because the final score was always terrifying enough. Hours remained until first pitch, and Clint Hurdle walked out to the dugout area to look around.

I couldn’t resist.

Me: “You know, until you get this place and that team out of your guys’ heads, nothing changes.”

Hurdle: “You believe in that stuff?”

Me: “I believe in this stuff. Seen too much of it.”

Hurdle: “Come on. The players play the game. Last year was last year. We don’t own that.”

Me: “OK.”

Late on that Sunday afternoon, after the Brewers had just racked up Ws of 5-2, 8-2 and 9-6, sending poor Bernie down that slide so often he probably had dizzy spells and running up their tear against the Pirates as if it would extend into perpetuity, Hurdle waited until his press conference was done to flash me a playful evil eye.

“All right,” the manager conceded, “we’ll put this one on the list.”

Mike Johnston is new to the Penguins now, and he’ll be tested by plenty of challenges large and small between now and when the games really count. But I’ll submit here and now, same as that day in Milwaukee, that until his players exorcise the Flyers from their heads once and for all, Freddy will keep calling on them.

Or is that Jason, given the goalie mask?

Whichever the case …

Flyers 5, Penguins 3.

And, as with most of the previous sequels, it wasn’t the slightest bit suspenseful.