Twenty years ago today, I was just three years old. The first Jurassic Park was released, gas was $1.16 per gallon and the Pittsburgh Pirates were just beginning their two decade-long playoff drought. Actually that’s misleading, they didn’t even go .500 in that 20-year span. The well is no longer dry, however. Sept. 3, the Pirates defeated the Milwaukee Brewers to guarantee themselves at least a .500 record (81 wins, 81 losses). They lead the National League Central Division by a hair, so despite the great news, a postseason is not guaranteed. With 17 games left in the season and history preceding them, we could easily see the Pirates play themselves out of the hunt for October. And that is the real issue at hand.
When you have experienced something as dismal and depressing as Pirates fans have, it is easy to get excited at any glimmer of hope. I’m not saying to not celebrate the feat, since it definitely warrants some rejoicing, just don’t lose sight of the real goal: a World Series.
That’s why I am relieved to hear the players on the team essentially confirming this logic. WInning Game 81 to a Pirates fan is a big deal, but to the players, it’s simply Game 81. The goal of the athletes, manager and front office certainly is not mediocrity. If that were the case, then Pittsburgh has been on a winning streak the past 20 years.
“We’re just playing to win a World Series. That’s what we’re here for,” center fielder Andrew McCutchen said of the broken streak - a very humbling statement from a man that does not have such humble statistics.
McCutchen is a three-time all-star, National League MVP candidate and is absolutely crushing the baseball. He has an average of .322, he is slugging .514, and boasts an on-base plus slugging of .916 this season, according to ESPN.com. Oh, and he has stolen 27 bases. So to know that the guy who ultimately turned the program around is still hard at work puts the situation into perspective.
Another player that is equally as dominant but does not seem to get as much buzz is left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano. If you didn’t know based on prior knowledge that he once had a bum elbow, which required Tommy John surgery, you would never tell based on this season. Some of the numbers he has put up specifically on left batters will baffle you.
Known to have one of the best sliders in the game, lefties are only hitting .068 against Liriano’s pitch, whiffing 47 percent of the time. If you need some guidance on how to react to these numbers, it should be something along the lines of, “How is a human being made from flesh and blood capable of doing these things?”
Essentially, the right pieces are coming together at the right time for the Pirates. And with the recent signing of Justin Morneau, the ‘Burgh is not messing around. If you are a fan, pump your fists for breaking the .500 barrier, but then get back to the task at hand. The team is pushing for October, and I sincerely hope it does something special. America loves a good underdog story, and this Pirates team is the quintessential representation of that.
If there were an award for the most loveable losers in baseball, the Pirates would have 20 of them sitting in the trophy case at PNC Park. You root for them the way you cheer on the slow kid giving 100 percent even though he won’t beat the winner who is giving 85 percent. You want the slow kid to win just once so the effort can be rewarded. Eventually that kid does win, and it is the greatest day ever.