Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Raise The Jolly Roger!

Today has the potential to be an historic day.  A major American professional sports record could very well be broken this evening, a record that has been 20 years in the making.  A few moments ago, nine members of the Pittsburgh Pirates Major League Baseball Club, a team that has been in existence since 1887, with five World Series wins and a who's who of Hall of Fame baseball players, including Honus Wagner, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, and Willie Stargell, took the field in Milwaukee in a baseball game that, should they win, will clinch a winning season, and end twenty years of futility and losing, bringing a city with a long history of winning and championships in several professional sports, back to the winning side of the baseball standings.  Yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates will once again be a winning team!  Let the trumpets sing, let the bells ring, release the hounds, the Bucs are back!!!

The string of futility began after the completion of one of the most heart-wrenching sports moments in history, on October 14, 1992.  It is painful how well I can remember the details.  Just a few days before, I and a boatload of family members were fortunate to be able to attend Game 5 of the National League Championship Series in Pittsburgh, at old Three Rivers Stadium, where we watched our Pirates beat the Atlanta Braves to take a three games to two series lead.  The series would continue in Atlanta.  Game 6 was won by the Braves, forcing a Game 7, with the winner going on to the World Series.

My Dad and I watched the game in our rec room at our old house in Upper Marlboro.  We felt pretty confident that our team would win.  We had Cy Young award winning pitcher Doug Drabeck pitching, and he was awesome!  The Pirates jumped to a 2-0 lead and held on going into the bottom of the ninth inning.  What happened next was not expected, and broke the hearts of Bucs fans everywhere.

Doug Drabeck was still pitching going into the 9th.  The Braves 3, 4, & 5 hitters were up.  Terry Pendleton led off with a double.  David Justice was next, and he hit a weak ground ball to sure-handed Pirate 2b Jose "Chico" Lind, who booted it.  The Braves had men on 1st and 3rd with none out, and the winning run came to the plate:  Sid Bream.

Bream had spent several years previously as the Pirates' first baseman, and was my favorite player on the team.  An awesome individual, he had battled through knee injuries and the Bucs decided to let him go when he became a free agent, and he signed with the Braves.  Now he was in a position to help his new team beat his former team.  He was hardly 100%, and was hobbling due to his gimpy knees.

He came to the plate with a chance to win the game.  Drabeck, who was making his third start in eight days and had thrown 125 pitches, walked Bream on four pitches to load the bases.  Pirates' manager Jim Leyland decided it was time to go to the bullpen, and hard-throwing closer Stan Belinda was brought in to hopefully slam the door shut and take the Pirates to the World Series.

Belinda faced Ron Gant, and Gant hit a sacrifice fly to score  Pendleton and cut the Pirates' lead to 2-1.  Catcher Damon Berryhill came to the plate, and after several questionable called balls, Berryhill walked.  Brian Hunter was next and he promptly popped out to Lind.  There were now 2 outs, the bases were loaded, and the score was 2-1.  Bob Walk, the Pirates' veteran pitcher who pitched in Game 5, the one we saw live, was up in the bullpen warming up.  Belinda stayed in the game.

The Braves only had one more hitter still on the bench, Francisco Cabrera.  Cabrera had only batted a dozen times all season.  It would come down to him.  Win, lose, or tie, this was it.

The story has it that Andy Van Slyke, the Pirates' gold-glove center fielder, motioned to Barry Bonds (yes, that Barry Bonds), who was in left, to slide over closer to the line.  Bonds responded by giving Van Slyke the finger.

On the fourth pitch, Cabrera hit the ball into left field, close to the line, just as Van Slyke predicted.  Bonds, who didn't have the best arm, fielded it and threw it towards the plate.  In the meantime, Justice scored easily to tie the game.  Gimpy Sid Bream was held at third by the third base coach, but he ran right through the stop sign.  Bonds' throw was off the mark, but catcher Mike LaValliere caught it and reached for Bream to apply the tag a split second too late as Bream scored and the stadium went bonkers.

My dad and I stared at the TV in disbelief.  I couldn't believe our Bucs had lost.  I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  Dad immediately turned off the TV.  I slammed my fist into the wall (no damage to the wall or my hand, fortunately), and walked into my room, laid down on the bed, turned off the light, and stared at the ceiling for the next few hours.  I felt horrible.

That's not the end of the story.  The Pirates lost several more free agents, including Drabeck and Bonds, then had their worst season in a long time.  Soon, Leyland asked out of his contract and he left, then the Bucs were sold to new owners who threatened to move the team, and they just kept losing.  Year after year, for twenty years, they were laughing stocks.

Until now.  Now they have an opportunity to rise back to greatness.  Not only can they clinch a winning season tonight, they are in first place in their division and could be on their way to the playoffs!  But let's take it one step at a time.

Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd, Pedro Alvarez, John Buck, Jordy Mercer, and pitcher Francisco Liriano are the players on the field for tonight's game against the Brewers.  I'm hoping for an end to the curse of losing.

Let's raise the Jolly Roger, Buccos!  Bring a winner back to Pittsburgh, the City of Champions!

Have a great evening, everyone!

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