Raise the Jolly Roger!
No longer are the Pirates misfits. You know Pittsburgh has hit a new high in its unthinkable run when it has finally prevailed and ended a 21-year playoff drought. It has been years since Pittsburgh has been this flawless, and it’s anybody’s guess as to how scary they’ll be the rest of the way. And now, the scene is bliss in Pittsburgh, with yinz waving Jolly Roger flags and hundreds of fans standing and watching the game on the Clemente Bridge.
There’s much to like about the Pirates, after two decades of losing seasons, from which fans cheered and smiled all night Tuesday. So it is a possibility that the Pirates of Caribbean, having forced the Reds to walk the plank after a 6-2 victory, might be a legitimate World Series contender. It’s such a beautiful story that they have now become national darlings, known as America’s team suddenly and getting much love from their home crowd. It’s a sign of how far the Pirates have come now that no one is showing up to games wearing paper bags over their heads, or leaving a game early as they protest.
The sea of black-clad fans is pumped and eager for Game 1 of the NLDS. The futility that doomed the Pirates for 20 years left an infuriated and depressed fan base fretting over the suffering, pain and anguish that all feels like a distant memory. They were battered in the NL central, ripped on local radio stations and derided nationally, but oddly enough, they are giving their fans something to feel good about. The last time the Pirates partied inside their clubhouse as winners Bill Clinton was elected president, the Cold War had officially ended, Barry Bonds was a Pirate and Jim Leyland managed the team. PNC Park, besieged by outraged fans for over the last two decades, suddenly was electric and fans roared feeling good about the Pirates. The ballpark in Pittsburgh is one of the loudest, wildest places, located along the shore of Allegheny River, and fans no longer are dismayed and don’t feel the angst. It’s hard not to fall in love with “Buctober” baseball and the Pirates, who moves on to the NLDS to play the Cardinals on Thursday.
Marlon Byrd, traded from the Mets to the Pirates in late August, emerged as Pittsburgh’s messiah to his ball club and the city. Byrd showed his strength by smashing the ball into the left-field seats. He had one hell of a hit, blasting a solo home run for a 1-o lead in the second inning Tuesday. Russell Martin, a catcher the Yankees let walk as a free agent, homered in the second inning. It’s every young man’s dream to have one of those moments in sports, and it became a reality for Martin. He is living a dream, and has never had moments like these early in his career. I was struck, however, with Martin hitting two home runs on the night and Byrd finishing with two RBIs.
What’s impressive — and this is very striking — is that Martin smashed a 418-foot shot, and became only the second Pirate in team history to record a multi-home run game in the postseason. Martin is yet another outstanding hitter, one reason this team can advance deep into the postseason — maybe even to the Fall Classic. He lives for these big moments and he delivered for the Pirates when much was at stake. Inside the clubhouse, Byrd and Martin had champagne sprayed and poured on them. They were all soaked by the time the party was over.
The start of a fun night came when Byrd homered off Johnny Cueto, to become 8-for-12 lifetime against the Reds right-hander. The crowd went wild when he hit the long balls that sailed out of the park. From there it was all Pittsburgh, it was all Martin and Byrd. Those sluggers were doing major damage, and the fans were so incredibly loud, that it could have ruptured eardrums. The Pittsburghers, dressed in black, just in time for Halloween, serenaded with a chant of “Cue-to! Cue-to!” After all the chanting, Cueto was not the same pitcher — he lost control of his command and didn’t have the location on his pitches. The dominance of Francisco Liriano, however, was what dictated the game and he showed his stuff for much of the night, with his swing-and-miss slider and changeup.
It’s definitely one of the nicest stories in all of baseball, and America saw while watching the game exactly how good the Bucs are. The Pirates have plenty of fans, and their home crowd has been waiting 21 years for a moment like this one — a successful run to the postseason, to be exact. It’s no shock to see the Pirates make it this far, when they have Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen, who will likely be named the NL MVP. Plenty of people can agree with me that the work done by Liriano is simply the difference for a Pittsburgh team on a quest to stun the world.
The night for Liriano was remarkable, and he dominated and stifled the Reds for seven innings. This could well be the sign of what’s to come. And there’s a real good chance Pittsburgh will advance to the NLCS. This is awesome, for a franchise that hasn’t had a winning record since 92, and for Pittsburgh’s manager Clint Hurdle, who directed the 2007 Rocktober team in Colorado.
Pittsburgh is a wonderful football city, but the Pirates are clearly the best thing going. The Steelers are 0-4. The Pirates are having success and folks in the city are jumping on the Buctober bandwagon, which is understandable when average fans love to root for the winners. It’s the Jolly Roger over the Terrible Towel.
It’s that time of year. It’s Buctober.
It’s a Pirates Life for Pittsburgh.