The Pirates lost 2-1 to Oakland Monday night, their fifth loss in seven games after winning nine games in a row--including a 2-1, 14 inning victory over Milwaukee on June 30th that pushed their record to a season-best 21 games over .500 at 51-30.
That's baseball. I know some Pirates fans are probably feeling a bit uneasy with the recent hit to the win/loss record, but as cliched as it sounds, a baseball season really is a marathon and not a sprint. And sometimes, when you're running a marathon, you hit a wall or two.
I did some research, thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, and even though I pretty much knew this already, I discovered that those famed Pirates teams of the early 90s that won three-straight division titles had their share of ups and downs over the course of a season.
The past has a way of making us forget about the struggles, as we only hold on to the good times. When we think of those Pirates teams from two decades ago that were led by Barry Bonds, Doug Drabek, Andy Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla and John Smiley, we only remember the exciting wins and rarely the losses (at least in the regular season). However, even the very best baseball teams lose 60 or more games a year, so a slump or two or three is probably expected throughout the course of the season.
The 1990 Pirates, a team that made us believe in baseball again after the dreadful decade of the 80s, won 18 out of 22 games from April 19th-May 13th. It was the kind of run that made Pittsburgh the talk of baseball (that certainly sounds familiar). Unfortunately, soon after that run, the Pirates dropped eight of 10 games. Much like this season, I'll just bet Buccos fans, many of whom were far too used to the bad times, were just waiting for a complete collapse. There was no such collapse, as Pittsburgh won 10 of its next 12. Were there more slumps throughout the rest of the season? Absolutely, but the Pirates managed to win 95 games and their first division title in 11 seasons.
The 1991 squad was regarded as the best and most complete team the Pirates had during their three-year run. Sure enough, Pittsburgh won 98 games that season and won the NL East by a whopping 14 games.
But that '91 edition did hit a bumpy road or two, along the way. After winning nine games in a row from May 24th-June 2nd (sound familiar?), Pittsburgh lost 12 of 20. Later that summer, the Pirates lost eight games in a row and 13 of 15.
The 1992 edition surprised many by winning the East for a third time despite not having the services of stars Bobby Bonilla and John Smiley. Early in the season, the Pirates, once again, won nine games in row. Immediately after that run, however, Pittsburgh dropped 11 of 12 games. Later in the summer, on July 29th, the Pirates had a very ordinary 53-48 record and were tied for first place. But starting on July 30th, Pittsburgh won 11 games in a row and never looked back, winning 96 games overall and outpacing the rest of the division by seven games.
It's almost inevitable that a team that's hot will cool down for a spell. Like any marathon runner, the 2013 Pirates have just hit a wall.
If they can replenish their fluids and make it to the postseason, 20 years from now, we'll probably only remember the good times.