On Baseball in 2013.

MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers
Baseball in 2013 was crazy. It was explosive, it was dramatic, it was long (setting the record for most extra-inning games in a season)… and it is over.

I somehow miss baseball, even though the season only just left me. I know we now get to see who stays and who goes, who will sign a ridiculous contract, which players – if any – accept a qualifying offer, but it just doesn’t compare to the drama of actual games.

And of course, if you know me at all, the games I miss most are those of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates. Baseball’s Cinderella team, the Pirates registered a winning season after a multi-decade drought, reached the playoffs via the Wild Card, and advanced to the NLDS before eventually falling to 2013’s silver medalists, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Pittsburgh guts on display this year were both remarkable and refreshing to a longtime fan accustomed to witnessing a general lack of perseverance. You just couldn’t count them out, no matter the inning or the score.

Another gutsy squad – perhaps the gutsiest of all – was undoubtedly the Boston Red Sox. Coming from the depths of last place in 2012 to ascend to World Series Champions in 2013 was no small task, and the heart that emerged in that bearded platoon was something you couldn’t ignore, regardless of who you root for. Following the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, the city needed a win, and their beloved Red Sox gave them many, including the Game 6 victory over the Cardinals that put a bow on 2013.

Beyond the Pirates and the Red Sox, we saw another remarkable year from Miguel Cabrera, who remained the most dangerous hitter in baseball, as only he can despite injury. We saw a nearly untouchable Clayton Kershaw stay as dominant as ever until his very last start. Another Dodger, rookie Yasiel Puig, exploded onto baseball consciousness in a way few ever have. And though improbable at the outset, we saw Chris Davis crank 53 home runs, eclipsing his previous season-best by 20.

As I write this, the above feel like broad-stroke bullet points after following baseball every single day this season. It’s impossible to cover everything notable, intriguing, or awe-inspiring that happened, and it’s certainly not my intention to do so. I guess my brain just needs some sort of peace with how I spent the last eight months of my life.

This offseason, I’ll be turning my attentions to the broader world of sports (a less cryptic update likely to come soon). And I guess the hirings, firings, money and movement on the baseball front are going to have to cut it for me until the first bats crack and pants get dirty on February 21, 2014.

Buctober – Still in Shock

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.

NLDS Pirates Cardinals Baseball.JPEG-0e59e

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).

Let’s go Bucs.

Party Like It’s 1992.

Only Marlon Byrd crossed the plate… and that’s all the Pirates needed.

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.

A Bunch of Non-Losers.

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).

Oh happy day.

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.

Here are the official highlights. Can’t get enough of Greg Brown. And here’s Travis Snider’s beautiful bomb.

Lucky Number.

As I wrote in my review of Moneyball, I have been a longtime lover of baseball. What I may have not made clear was that I happen to root for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I spend a lot of time in pain.

Last year was exciting in that the Pirates were in first place in the NL Central for a legitimate chunk of time. Young talent was meshing (and hitting), the pitching rotation was coming together.. it was EXCITING. The season fizzled into nothingness (read: finishing 18 games under .500), which is nothing new for the Buccos, but it stung a little more after hope snuck its way in.

Welcome, sir.

With reservation, I have begun to pay attention to Pirates news again, most notably of late being that former Yankees P A.J. Burnett was traded to the Pirates. In New York, my Yankees-fan friends and colleagues are split on whether this is a “good riddance” or “good for the Pirates” situation. I saw Burnett pitch a few times this past season in pinstripes; sometimes he was wild, sometimes he locked games down. I had no idea what kind of guy he was outside of that (other than hearing he listens to wildass rock music). But today, I think I know him a little better.

Pirates P Daniel McCutchen (also a once-upon-a-time Yankee), is currently rostered as #34, which is Burnett’s number. It is tradition for veterans to purchase a gift for a player who is willing to give up his number (which McCutchen was). These gifts are usually nice, but I’ve never heard of this before –¬†Burnett, instead of getting McCutchen a nice watch, is going to start a college fund for McCutchen’s (currently in-utero) daughter, who is due in May 2012.

Well I’ll be damned.