It’s a sunny October Friday in the 412.
With the St. Louis Cardinals winning, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton pitching in the NLDS, and the Cincinnati Reds nowhere to be found (uncalled for, I know), I can’t help but reminisce about better times as a Pittsburgh Pirates fan.
The year was 2013. The Bucs had just come off the most heroic win for their franchise in over 20 years. Francisco Liriano, Russell Martin, MVP Andrew McCutchen and the rest of the squad had taken down the Reds in the rowdy PNC Park Wild Card game, and they were headed to St. Louis to participate in the NLDS.
We all know the ending to this story isn’t happy, but while we wait for the 2020 Pirates organization to name it’s next fearless leader, I thought it’d be fun to recount what was a pretty entertaining series that could have been even more so if only for a few timely hits.
October 3rd - Game 1 - Pirates 1 at Cardinals 9
Adam Wainwright’s first domination of this series. The Bucs scored a lone run on a Pedro Alvarez bomb in the fifth inning, but the contest was over long before that. AJ Burnett blew up in the bottom of the third, allowing a three-run home run to Carlos Beltran and following it up with a bases loaded walk to Jon Jay. David Freese added insult to injury, and the Pirates were down 7-0 before anyone could blink. Game 1 in St. Louis is a game you should lose, so spirits were still mighty high for the Pittsburgh faithful.
October 4th - Game 2 - Pirates 7 at Cardinals 1
Huge game here. Best performance for the Pirates by far in this series. Not only were they able to score more than one run (something they’d fail to do in three of the five contests), but they stole a win as the away team, giving them a chance to win the series at home. The Bucs offense was all over Lance Lynn, scoring five runs over his 4.1 innings pitched. Lynn didn’t help himself, walking three in this start, but the Pittsburgh bats were loud.
Cole helped his cause with an RBI single, Alvarez homered again, and Martin and Marlon Byrd contributed RBI hits in the fifth inning. The Cole Train through six outstanding innings, and the lethal combo of Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, and Jason “Grill Cheese” Grilli closed it out. We were going back to the 412 with the series tied 1-1.
October 6th - Game 3 - Cardinals 3 at Pirates 5
While Game 2 was the best Pirates performance, Game 3 was definitely the most exciting for the city of Pittsburgh and Buccos fans everywhere. I actually attended this game (something I brag about as a lifelong fan from upstate New York), and the atmosphere was the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life (I didn’t attend the Wild Card game). My dad cried during the National Anthem (he’s been rooting for the Pirates for about 45 years now, and this was his first playoff game). The win was unreal, and walking Federal Street after the game was an experience like nothing else I’ve ever witnessed in my life. I hope to get there again someday.
Anyway, the Pirates jumped on Joe Kelly early, as Byrd hammered a two-RBI ground ball through the left side of the infield. Liriano would pitch great until Beltran tied it up with a two-RBI gound ball single of his own in the fifth inning. Pittsburgh answered right back though with a Martin sacrifice fly to take back the lead. Beltran wasn’t done, and retaliated with another homer to tie it once more. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, McCutchen reached base for the fourth time in the game with a double, and he came around to score on a Alvarez single. Martin tacked on another, and Grilli closed the door again. Pittsburgh had a chance to win the series at PNC Park in Game 4.
October 7th - Game 4 - Cardinals 2 at Pirates 1
This is the one we all view as the one that got away. Michael Wacha put his foot down, spinning 7.1 near-flawless innings with just one solo homer to that man again, Pedro Alvarez. Wacha did walk two batters, but the nine strikeouts were too much to overcome. A Matt Holliday two-run homer in the sixth inning was too much to overcome, and other than that Morton pitched a pretty good game. The Bucs would only muster that lone hit in the game, and there series was going back to Missouri for the rubber match. Anything can happen in Game 5 of a five-game series, but a little piece of me kind of knew that was our best shot.
October 9th - Game 5 - Pirates 1 at Cardinals 6
The second dose of Wainwright was tough to swallow. The veteran righty threw a devastating complete game, allowing just one run on 107 pitches. He scattered eight hits and one walk and racked up six strikeouts in the outing. The lone Pittsburgh RBI was Alvarez’s sixth of the series on a ground ball to second base, and the Pirates were otherwise silent. The lack of power and instant runs on homers was palpable, and the timely hits never came.
Cole pitched pretty well, allowing just two runs on three hits and a walk over five innings. The Cardinals tacked on a few more off of Melancon in the eighth inning the put the game, and the series, out of reach. It was a tough one just a few days after Pirates fans felt like they were on top of the world, as they roamed Federal Street needing just one more win to advance to the NLCS.
I remember thinking, “It’s all good. We’ll be back soon with more power in the bats and one more ace.” However, a couple of tough Wild Card draws and some tough second half of seasons later, here we are.
Looking back, let’s give a special thanks to the recently fired Clint Hurdle and our forever hero Andrew McCutchen, among many others, for giving us such a wild ride. I hope that soon enough we can experience that excitement again. Until then, I’ll relive that October Sunday in my mind and long for the next time we can trot up and down Federal Street in October sporting our black and gold and yelling, “Let’s go Bucs!” at the top of our lungs.
Here’s to new beginnings and that start of that journey in 2020. Let’s go Bucs!