There are some things in life you just never think you'll get to experience again.
If you were a Pirates fan from 1993-2012, you may have just assumed that you would never get to see your favorite team involved in the postseason ever again. If you thought that, you certainly had a lot of ammo, including 20 straight losing seasons and far too many number one overall draft choices.
But, on the evening of September 23, 2013, as Pittsburgh was in the process of closing out the Cubs at Wrigley Field, I was literally minutes away from witnessing what I never thought I ever would again.
I don't have Root Sports, but thanks to MLB.com's live look-in, I was watching the bottom of the ninth inning on my laptop.
Moments earlier, in the top of the ninth inning, Starling Marte put the Bucs up, 2-1, with a solo home run to left field.
Now, closer Jason Grilli tried to put the Cubs away, which would clinch at least a tie for one of the two National League Wild Card spots. But there was some trouble on the base paths in the name of Nate Schierholtz, who stood on first with two away.
As (bad) luck would have it, while Grilli was trying to retire hitter Ryan Sweeney, the live look-in expired, and I was left with nothing but my radio to take in the action.
I hurried up and tuned the game in on my radio, just in time to hear Tim Neverett describe the ending.
Sweeney lifted a bloop single to right field that Marlon Byrd bobbled. Andrew McCutchen, the soon to be NL MVP, immediately grabbed the ball and threw it in the direction of first baseman Justin Mourneau, who relayed the throw to catcher Russell Martin just in time to nail Schierholtz who was sent home after the Byrd bobble.
I'll never forget Neverett's call of "he is.......OUT AT THE PLATE!" as long as I live, and my reaction of jumping up and down in my living room like a little kid.
Moments later, the Nationals lost in St. Louis, and the Pirates were officially in the postseason for the first time since October of 1992.
The players sprayed their champagne in the cramped confines of Wrigley Field, and, I'm sure, every Pirates fan was walking on Cloud 9 that evening and most of the next day.
Thankfully, there was the better part of a week remaining in the regular season, and that gave Yours truly a chance to savor the feeling for days and days. And savor it I did, as I even found an old VCR in my closet and enjoyed a bunch of Pirates tapes I hadn't watched in years--including the highlight film of the 1979 World Series and some Fox Sports Spotlight productions from the late 2000s that chronicled the division championship teams of the early 90s.
(Speaking of which, Jim Leyland, by the late 00s, the manager of the Tigers and a man who had already won a World Series in Florida and appeared in one with Detroit in 2006, was interviewed for the series on the early 90s teams and broke down and cried as he recalled the heartbreak of the Game 7 loss in the 1992 NLCS.)
Anyway, that whole week was Heaven, as I, again, savored the feeling of postseason baseball. And, yes, it does have a "feel" to it, just like postseason football, basketball, hockey, whatever.
There's just something different about the postseason that's hard to describe in words.
There was still the matter of the Pirates trying to claim the NL Central crown, but I wasn't worried about that. I knew that was thrown away the night Pedro Alvarez and Jordy Mercer threw away the game against the Reds, with Pittsburgh ahead, 5-2, in the top of the ninth inning at PNC Park.
Still, though, this didn't stop the folks at Bucs Dugout from scoreboard watching and slugging it out on the gamethread of the Pirates lone loss post-clinching, as they dropped a 4-2 matinee to the Cubs on a Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley.
As for me, I was only worried about the wild card game the following Tuesday and whether or not Pittsburgh would host the Reds (who had also clinched a wild card spot) at PNC Park or have to travel to Cincinnati for the "all the marbles" showdown.
The site would be determined by a three game regular season finale in Cincinnati, with the winner of two games claiming the right to host the play-in contest.
Turns out, Pittsburgh swept the Reds in Cincinnati, and everything was set. For the first time in its short history, PNC Park would grow-up fast, by hosting a postseason game.
I don't know about you, but as the day of the game grew nearer, the feelings of euphoria that existed as I watched those old VHS tapes quickly turned to anxiousness. I mean, here I was experiencing the first postseason game in two decades, and it would have the same "Game 7" consequences as the '92 NLCS, with a possible heartbreaking loss giving me another 20 years of bad memories.
To tell you the truth, I couldn't wait for it to be over.
I had to work that night and was just getting done right as the first pitch was being thrown by Francisco Liriano.
On my way to pick my mother up from a function in the East End, I didn't turn my car radio on once, as I couldn't stand the thought of tuning in to hear something like: Reds 4, Pirates 0.
As my mother got in the car, I said, "I don't even want to hear any updates that you may have gotten from the people you socialized with."
I drove her home, and the route took me past PNC Park, and the site of the people sitting and standing across the river as they just took in the festivities was, again, something I'll always remember.
I dropped my mother off at her house and headed for my apartment. Again, no radio, and after I got out of my car and walked past the apartments of my fellow tenants, I wondered if I'd hear any reactions--I didn't.
I also had my smartphone off, as I knew I would be getting constant updates from my brother and uncle, and I didn't want to read any text messages that included sad ones.
Fortunately, along with Root, TBS isn't included in my basic cable package, so I wasn't tempted. Instead, I popped in a DVD of Rocky (something that had become a tradition during the regular season, as I waited out nail-biters), and vowed not to look for any updates until about 10pm.
The first updates I sought were via Twitter, and one from Guy Junker kind of scared me, because it was vague. Turns out, he was only lamenting the fact that Pittsburgh didn't do more damage to Johnny Queto before he exited after yielding four run in 3 1/3 innings.
By this point, I decided to turn my smartphone on and was greeted by positive messages by both my brother and uncle. My brother said, "It's in the bag," while my uncle told me to "just relax."
Couldn't, though, and I didn't until I finally knew it was a wrap, with the Pirates celebrating a 6-2 victory.
If you remember, PNC Park was alive that night, and the way the fans reacted to every single pitch and every single situation, it may have, in fact, been the best postseason crowd in Pittsburgh sports history.
I was never so relieved and never so happy than I was that night.
The Pirates had finally exorcised the demons of 1992 and gave their suffering fans something to cherish forever.
The Pirates aren't quite hitting on all the same cylinders that they were a year ago at this time, and they're currently on the outside looking in at first place in the Central and are three games out of a wild card spot.
The problem that Grilli had that night in Chicago (along with the problems Mark Melancon had in closing out games down the stretch in 2013) proved to be a bit of a prelude to the 2014 campaign, as the once famed Shark Tank bullpen has failed the team far too often.
Will the Pirates be able to overcome the bullpen woes and maybe even win a division title?
Heck, I'd be happy with another wild card game.
Cause it would be another Buctober, that's why.