Are the Pittsburgh Pirates doomed to never make the playoffs, let alone finish above .500 again? Are they cursed? It’s highly unlikely. PNC Park doesn’t appear to have been built on top of any burial ground, and the manner in which the 1992 team lost the NL Pennant to the Atlanta Braves certainly doesn’t scream “deal with Lucifer.”
But ever since the 2011 team lost a back-breaking 19-inning marathon against the same Braves team with an infamously bad blown call by umpire Jerry Meals (spawning a plethora of hilarious but unfulfilling “Jerry Meals says its safe” memes, not to mention a Facebook page), fans have wondered whether some cosmic force is conspiring to ensure the continued futility of the Pittsburgh Pirates for all time. Consider the following:
Record prior to Jerry Meals says it’s safe: 54-49, 1.5 games back in the NL Central
Record after Jerry Meals says it’s safe: 18-41, 24 games back
*Note: In 2011, the Pirates set a record for finishing more games back than any team in MLB history that had been in 1st place as late in the season as this team was.
There may not have been a singular, polarizing event on the field that damned this Pirates’ club, but the collapse was just as bad. As of the July 31st, 2012 Trade Deadline, the Pirates were 15 games over .500 (1 off their season high of 16), and only 3 games back in the NL Central standings. But despite the additions of Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, and Gaby Sanchez, this club finished 78-82, plummeting 18 games below the division winner by season’s end.
*Note: In 2012, the Pirates set another record for MLB futility, this time becoming the 1st team in MLB history to finish below .500 after being 16 games above the break-even mark at any point.
Now fast-forward to last night’s high-stakes, series-opening contest against a closely-trailing St. Louis Cardinals powerhouse. The Pirates came into St. Louis having been swept for the 1st time since a 3-game set against the Braves in early July, this time by an underachieving Colorado Rockies club. A 3-2, momentum-turning victory appeared to be in the works. Charlie Morton outdueled Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainright, Andrew McCutchen and Jordy Mercer homered, and sharp defensive positioning by manager Clint Hurdle preserved the narrow lead at the end of the 8th.
With Cardinals on 1st and 3rd with 2 outs, Hurdle astutely placed 2B Neil Walker in shallow right field against beast pinch hitter Matt Adams, who had a ridiculous NL-leading .371 batting average as a power-laden pinch hitter. Pitcher Bryan Morris got tagged by Adams, but the sharp liner burrowed into a leaping Walker’s outstretched glove, a feather in the hat of a manager that often overthinks games.
But then it happened.
With closer Mark Melancon on the mound and 1 out already in the books in the bottom of the 9th, OF Starling Marte allowed an absolute can-of-corn fly ball from the bat of Daniel Descalso ricochet off the heel of his glove, turning the 2nd out into a runner in scoring position. The red-laden crowd went crazy. Matt Carpenter struck out- which the ROOT Sports announcers quickly pointed out should have been the game’s 3rd out- before Allen Craig drove Descalso in with the tying run 2 batters later.
It took another 5 innings and an additional hour, but the Cardinals completed their 4-run comeback, as Jon Jay crossed the plate in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, transforming a potential 4-game St. Louis deficit in the NL Central standings to only 2.
So is the same “curse” that haunted the once-contending 2011 and 2012 Pirates’ clubs now in full-effect here in 2013? It’s unlikely. The Pirates are still 22 games over .500, and due to the invention of the 2nd Wild Card spot, still have a 96.5% chance (down from 99.2% a few days earlier) of reaching the postseason in some form. However, what can be far more real than curses are blows to clubhouse morale, and last night’s loss has the absolute potential to do that if the Pirates don’t recover quickly.
Here’s hoping the 2013 version of the Pirates learned from the mistakes of the two previous teams, and can quickly put this game- and the Cardinals’ close positioning in the standings- well behind them. Thanks for reading!