I didn’t write immediately before or after the NL Wild Card game (in which the Pirates defeated the Reds 6-2), because simply, I was in shock. I think that I am still in shock. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, a town that expects its teams to win and is often rewarded (by the Steelers of years past and the Penguins) – but never by the Pirates. And when I say “never” I mean to say that over two decades of crushed expectations, bar-lowering, pity, and pain feels like forever. Sure, the franchise has multiple World Series wins! But that was a lifetime ago.
This year, I felt in my bones the Buccos would finish above .500, and that is truly all I wanted to take away from this season. The fact that they not only finished well above .500 and clinched a postseason berth for the first time since 1992 but WON the Wild Card game to stay alive and advance to the NLDS is all icing.
I root like hell for the Black and Gold (or Black and Yellow per Wiz Khalifa), but I haven’t felt connected to a season or a team like this in a very long time, possibly ever. This has been an incredibly special year to be a Pirates fan.
Tonight kicks off the NLDS – the Pirates at the Cardinals (5 PM ET), and the Dodgers at the Braves (8:30 PM ET).
Since I last wrote, I am pained to admit that I actually started to believe the Pittsburgh Pirates might not move from non-losers to winners. Despite their snapping the infamous 20-season losing streak with win #81, the old dear-god-it’s-all-falling-apart-now feelings started to creep back in. Four straight losses will do that to you, especially when three of those are part of a dominant sweep by the St. Louis Cardinals.
But now, September 9, 2013 is another date I get to remember.
I will remember 22-year-old rookie Gerrit Cole, making just his 16th career start, out-dueling Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers. I will remember the recently-acquired Marlon Byrd breaking through in the 7th with a two-out double, and the next batter, big bull Pedro Alvarez, coming through with a double of his own to knock Byrd in for the game’s lone run. I will remember wrapping my arms around myself with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, trying not to barf when Adrian Beltre singled to left off Mark Melancon to put the tying run on base. And most of all, I will remember the cheers and high fives from my colleagues as the next batter, A.J. Pierzynski, grounded out fittingly to Neil Walker, the Pittsburgh Kid, to end the game and finally, finally make the Pirates winners again.
Click here to watch the MLB.com highlights of the Pirates’ 1-0 victory over the Texas Rangers for win #82.
Something I wasn’t sure I was ever going to see magically materialized in front of me yesterday evening – the Pittsburgh Pirates, my hometown and no-matter-what-happens-will-always-be-my-favorite baseball team, won their 81st game of the season, beating the Milwaukee Brewers (IN MILWAUKEE), 4-3. Why is this significant? Because that one Tuesday night victory snapped 20 consecutive losing seasons (and less importantly, gave the Pirates their fourth consecutive victory IN Milwaukee for the first time since 2002 – woof).
We can’t call it a winning season yet – #81 guarantees a .500 season, and a tie isn’t a win. But it is a non-losing season for the first time since 1992. I was a small nugget version of myself back then, learning how to throw fireballs in the backyard with my dad. I am an adult (kind of) now, watching baseball professionally, and I got to both see and help manage the production of last night’s highlights (for MLB.com). I got to slap a Zoltan high-five with my Pirates-fan compatriot at work as Travis Snider crossed home plate after his go-ahead pinch-hit homer in the top of the ninth, and again when Mark “The Shark” Melancon K’d Khris Davis to end it… end the game and end the most notorious losing streak in professional sports.