If you’re going to put an end to one of the worst streaks in American professional sports, you may as well do it with a little flare.
It took a Travis Snider, ninth-inning, pinch-hit home run, but finally the Pittsburgh Pirates have done it. For the first time in twenty seasons, the Pirates will not have a losing record.
Think about that. The Pirates’ losing-season streak was almost old enough to drink. Twenty years. Twenty long and agonizing sub-.500 years for the Pittsburgh faithful. And now it’s all over.
Last night’s 4-3 win over the Brewers secured Pittsburgh’s 81st win of the season.
And even if the team loses every one of its remaining 24 games, it is still guaranteed at-worst to finish 81-81 for the year.
To say congratulations are in order would be a criminal understatement. It’s time to break out the champagne glasses and party like it was 1992! That was the last time the organization could boast a non-losing season, after all.
To put things in perspective, the last time the Pirates finished even or better, George Bush was still in office. That’s H.W., not this guy.
Al Gore had just invented the internet and would soon be on his way to the White House as Bill Clinton’s vice president. Compact discs had just surpassed cassette tapes as the preferred medium for recorded music.
Aladdin was the number one movie in America. Jack Nicholson was screaming “You can’t handle the truth!” in A Few Good Men and Tom Hanks “There’s no crying in baseball!” in A League of Their Own.
Christian Laettner hit the shot for Duke that still gives me nightmares to this day.
Needless to say, it’s been a long time coming for this down-on-its-luck franchise to be able to raise the Jolly Roger with pride.
The Pirates had been steadily trending upward in the last few years. In 2010, the club finished 57-105, before improving to 72-90 and then 79-83 in 2011 and 2012, respectively (in both seasons, they began the season well above .500 before suffering titanic collapses in late summer).
And with the losing-season streak – which was the longest in American professional sports at the time – less than 24 hours behind them, the club already has its sights on much more.
“It was a step in the right direction,” manager Clint Hurdle said after the game. “It was on our to-do list.”
In some cases, quotes like these are coach speak; mere lip service. Not so with this year’s Pirates. It is September, and Pittsburgh is alone in first place by two full games in what has been the most competitive National League division in baseball all season.
Unlike years past, their success can’t be considered a fluke. Pitching has been the key for the Buccos, who boast the MLB lows in ERA (3.17) and opponents’ batting average (.236). That’s remarkable when you consider that both the rotation (A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano) and bullpen (Jason Grilli) are anchored by aging castaways.
Good pitching will always keep a team competitive, and Pittsburgh’s pitching has been nothing short of spectacular. Good pitching coupled with a capable offense can threaten for a title (see 2010 and 2012 Giants, San Francisco).
Offense had been the one bugaboo that frightened prognosticators with this team. But in August, the front office made some big waiver trades, adding outfielder Marlon Byrd, catcher John Buck and first baseman Justin Morneau to a lineup already featuring All Stars in center fielder Andrew McCutcheon and third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
The winning season is nice for the fans. They haven’t gotten to experience one in two full decades. It’s nice for the players too, but the way this season has gone it certainly is not enough.
“We’re playing to win a World Series,” said McCutcheon, who is a legitimate candidate for NL MVP. “That’s what we’re here for. That’s what it’s all about.”
Steve Czaban of Yahoo! Sports Radio (one of the best sports talk personalities in the business) said it best months ago: Ich bin ein Pirates.
Improperly translated, it means that at least for this season, we are all Pirates.