(Follow me on Twitter @jim_krug; opening image credit rackcdn)
The once-slumping Pittsburgh Pirates just curb-stomped division rival St. Louis for the second time in 2 nights, wrenching away the hotly contested NL Central top spot in the process. Players were seen embracing new arrival 1B Justin Morneau, acquired earlier in the day by suddenly-deft GM Neal Huntington, a trade only made possible by the normally spendthrift Nutting ownership suddenly willing to pick up the remaining tab on the former MVP’s $14,000,000 contract, which no other club would do.
Morneau’s character and excitement were manifest from the start. Not only did the longtime Twin have to waive a no-trade clause to leave Minnesota (how many marquee players would have done that for the Pirates in the past?), but he somehow managed to be in Pittsburgh, dressed in uniform, and in the dugout by the 7th inning, after being halfway across the country when traded only 7 hours earlier.
And all of this unfolded in front of yet another packed house at stunning PNC Park, normally populated by as many empty seats as fans.
Crazy, civilization-shattering s$@t is going down in Pittsburgh right now, and it’s time to enjoy the ride.
Aside from a fleeting brush with legitimacy back in 1997, as the “Freak Show” Pittsburgh Pirates faced an electrifying late season 3-game set with the Houston Astros with first place in the NL Central on the line (the Buccos would lose 2 out of 3 to the Astros, and finish the season 79-83, 5.0 games behind them), this is as legitimate as Major League Baseball has been in Pittsburgh since incumbent President George H.W. Bush was trying to hold off a young, upstart Governor from Arkansas named Bill Clinton in the 1992 election campaign.
As a fan and writer, I can’t ignore all of the criticism that I’ve levied against Huntington, club president Frank Coonelly, and the Nutting ownership over the past five seasons. There have been a lot of mistakes along the way. Honestly, Huntington’s recent offseason strategy- throwing lots of money at aging free agents, hoping they could return to their prime- was very similar to every other year’s strategy: a strategy that’s wasted money and burned the Pirates every year. Only this time, it worked out spectacularly.
But with objectivity in mind, it’s important to give shoutouts when things finally do work. Huntington made many poor veteran free agent choices before, but this time, he nailed each of them. The Nuttings have cheaped out on adding talent before (hello, Miguel Sano; how we all wished the Pirates would’ve ponied up the extra $250,000 for you years ago), but this time, they realized how special and fleeting this situation is, and they added salary to give the Pirates the offense they so desperately lacked.
And in the end, this may be the one true edge the Pirates have against the elite competition of the NL: momentum. Losing for 20 straight years offers one helluva’ boost when you finally win. Players get a surge of adrenaline hearing the raucous thunder of a packed stadium that was once mostly empty. And even if Justin Morneau makes little statistical difference over the in-house alternatives over the last month of the season, it swells the morale of both the fanbase- to know that ownership is trying- and the Pirates players- to know that management has brought in every reinforcement it can to avoid the collapses seen in 2011 and 2012.
The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates: All in after a perfect alignment of decisions, determination, and destiny. Let’s enjoy the ride, and hope it doesn’t end anytime soon! Thanks for reading.