The Pittsburgh Pirates season came to and end on Wednesday with a 6-1 loss to Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals.
While Pirates fans and players are disappointed the season is over, it is far from a disappointing season for the organization and fan base, which endured 20 years of losing.
When Spring Training started and manager Clint Hurdle predicted 95 wins, fans and baseball analysts laughed in his face. They called him crazy and unrealistic. All Pittsburgh fans wanted was 82 wins, but many where unsure if that was a possible feat. One man, his coaches, and a group of baseball players “Believed” and took the city of Pittsburgh and their fans on a magical ride.
Everyone knows the story, but if not, here you go.
In 1992, The Pirates and the Atlanta Braves were playing for a chance to move on to the World Series. At the time, their were no wild card games, no division series, only two winners in the American League and the National League. Those two teams went head-to-head for a chance to meet the other league for all of baseball’s glory.
That year the Pirates had a weak bullpen but one of the strongest rotations. They had Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, Doug Drabek and Jim Leyland at the head of the reigns. It all came down to one play at home plate. It was one play that would change everything for one organization for two decades.
Stan Belinda had replaced Drabek and got two outs, but pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera smacked a 2-1 pitch into left-center field and Sid Bream beat Barry Bonds’ throw to the plate. It was the play that broke the hearts of a city that year and for the next 20 years to follow.
In 2007, general manager Neal Huntington was hired by the Pirates. He made trades that people laughed at, Nate McLouth to the Braves for Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke. He drafted players like Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole. He was slowly building one of the best minor league systems in baseball.
Following the awful, 105 loss season in 2010, Huntington hired Hurdle and the future slowly continued to head up hill. in 2011 and 2012, the Bucs looked unstoppable, but two back-to-back late season collapses had fans doubting Hurdle and Huntington.
Opening day 2013, veteran A.J. Burnett took the mound for the beginning of one of baseball’s best stories.
It was a journey that was capped with injuries, returns, unforgettable debuts, winning streaks, losing streaks, frustration and joy. It was a journey that led to the playoffs, something a city had not seen in 21 years.
The wild card games was one of the best Pirates games since 1979. The atmosphere was electric and the Pirates got by the Cincinnati Reds to advance to take on the NL Central division champion Cardinals.
The Pirates fought hard and were eliminated in five games by one of the best pitchers in the league, the team with a deadly offense and the team with the best record in baseball. The score doesn’t show how hard the Pirates fought or how they weren’t far from being a team that could beat the Cardinals and advance.
The bad part about not winning the World Series is that a successful season ends on a bad note. The important part is the success of the underdog and the beginning of something special.
Let’s take a look back at the memorable 2013 season:
The Pirates won 94 games.
They won the Wild Card game.
Their was the electric atmosphere of the NL Wild Card game, where the fans might have propelled the Bucs to a win.
They made it to Game 5 of the NLDS.
Over the course of the season, the Pirates never lost more than four games in a row. Big losing streaks killed this team over the past couple of seasons. This team always managed to bounce back, and a new guy always played the role
Andrew McCutchen had another MVP-like season, and will probably win the NL MVP award.
Pedro Alvarez topped 30 home runs for the second year in a row and finished in a tie for the NL home run race.
The Pirates acquired arguably the best free agent pitcher (Francisco Liriano) and best free agent position player (Russell Martin).
Gerrit Cole made his debut and the Pirates watched him start to turn into an ace at the end of the season.
The losing streak ended.
Starling Marte had a strong first full season in the pros. He had a 4.6 WAR. By comparison, Andrew McCutchen had a 3.5 WAR in his first full season.
The Pirates used 12 starting pitchers. Eight of those pitchers had an ERA of 3.59 or better. Two of the remaining pitchers only made one start.
The Shark Tank emerged as one of the best bullpens.
There were so many memorable games or series. There were so many different heroes… Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Clint Barmes, Russell Martin, etc.
The Pirates had two champagne celebrations. The pure joy in the players, coaches, front office and owners was incredible.
Charlie Morton finally started living up to his potential.
The Pirates sent Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Jeff Locke to the All-Star Game. Alvarez even participated in the Home Run Derby.
The Pirates reached 25 games over .500. They spent a good portion of the summer in first place and they battled down to the last weekend for the NL Central title.
There was the series against the Cardinals where we took over first place by winning 4-of-5 games including a double header.
The minor league system is loaded with talent. This makes the future look bright.
This season was great on so many levels. For the first time in a long time, there were no cheers of disappointment, only joy. Whether it was the blowouts, the comebacks, the pitching duels or the walk-offs, this season was a great ride.
There were too many great moments to list, but it was a season to remember.
“Don’t be sad because it’s over,” Hurdle said. “Be glad it happened.”