That was perfect.
I don't even really know what else to say about this game. The big concern with the one game playoff is that no matter what you think the advantage that your favorite team might have, it's not guaranteed to bear itself out over such a short span. No matter how many times we all sat back and pointed to Liriano's numbers against lefties or at PNC, it only takes one lucky swing to spoil that. Every single time I thought about how electric the crowd at PNC would be for the lineups and the anthem and the team taking the field, there was a little voice that said, "But what if the Reds take a 3-0 lead early and Cueto comes out dealing? There's nothing quieter than a nervous crowd that's been silenced."
And then after all that nervous energy and worrying, it played out in the exact fashion that Pirates wanted it to. Liriano came out dealing with 95 mph cheese and a wicked slider. The Pirates got to Cueto in the second inning with home runs from Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin and they'd chased him early in the fourth inning. By the time the fourthe ended, it was 5-1 Pirates, Liriano was cruising, and all of the little things that were so concerning (Would Hurdle leave Liriano out on the mound for too long or misuse the bullpen? What if Bruce or Votto run into a ball? What if Liriano just runs out of gas?) all became moot points. Liriano went seven and only needed 90 pitches. He struck out five and got 13 groundouts. He made Joey Votto look like he'd never seen a baseball bat before. The Reds barely seemed to threaten him at any point.
The lineup was great, too. Marte, Walker, and McCutchen all had two hits at the top of the lineup (with Walker hitting a huge run-scoring double from the right side of the plate), Byrd homered in his first playoff at-bat, Russell Martin crushed two home runs, and the streaky Pirate lineup never had trouble finding hits.
I could keep going and going. The crowd at PNC was everything it should've been; every national writer commented on the atmosphere and the noise pre-game and after Byrd's home run, the whole park heckled Cueto into dropping the ball with Martin at the plate, just before his home run. The defense was excellent while the Reds booted a few balls in big situations.
I'll use that word again: perfect. When TBS showed the Sid Bream play around the eighth inning, I groaned at first and then I realized something: I might never have to see that clip again (note: we will have to see that clip again if the Pirates play the Braves in the NLCS, but then, the Pirates will be in the NLCS if that happens, so, OK). For the bulk of my life, the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates has been one of a terrible playoff loss, followed by an endless stretch of losing. The creeping fear for this game was that the Pirates would lose, that they'd fail to move into the real playoffs, that even 94 wins and a playoff berth wouldn't banish the ghosts in the room. This win changes that narrative permanently. This Pirate team didn't stop at 81 or 82 wins. They didn't stop when they clinched a playoff spot. Now, they've risen to the occasion in PNC Park's first playoff game in every way possible.
I keep saying that this game was perfect, and that makes me a little bit nervous. That's because it implies that this game exists in a vacuum independent of whatever comes next. That might be true in 21 more years, but for now, part of what makes this night perfect is that while it's clear that this Pirate team is enjoying every step forward, they're also obviously not content to make the playoffs and call it a season. What makes this night perfect is that it all unfolded like a dream, that the Pirates won their first playoff game in 21 years, and that now they've got more playoff games this weekend. What's perfect is the knowledge that everything went right tonight, and that things can still get better.
Hasn't anyone commented that for some of us (well, those not too short in the tooth), this season represents, finally, a return to the norm? Balance is restored in the universe! The Pirates and Reds duking it out in the playoffs, albeit, this time, with the Bucs on top! Some people suggest that the Braves have been the Pirates' bane, but longer history shifts that title unarguably to those guys from the Queen City. They put the monkey on the back of the Bucs in 1990, and Atlanta was merely the beneficiary. How ironic that, in 1990-1, the Pirates, with such lefty power, poised to face right-handed pitching in the WS, had to first win a series against arguably the strongest left-handed pitching in the league. Now, the lefty Reds faced a similar challenge in Mr. Liriano. Welcome poetic justice, I say.
Great write up.
I stand by what I said on Twitter. Last night closed the book of failures not only since Sid Bream, but since our 1979 World Series win. It created a generational divide that now will allow these new Pirates to forge their own narrative.
After the ball drop, the fans seemed to lose their ability to sync up...I hope that changes. It reminded me SO much of the Tomahawk Chop playoff games and how much that must have gotten to the Pirates back in the day. It couldn't have been more obvious that it was working.
I loved watching the game and listening to Johnson and Darling talk about how Votto never changes his approach to hitting as he was chasing another slider that was barely still in the 412.
Very nice wrap up - you nailed it - Perfectly Dreamlike Game - hard to believe the season finished this way, with the Pirates beating the Reds (still the Big Red Machine in my baseball nightmares) four games in a row to end the season and go to the real playoffs. It would have been a crushing let down to lose tonight; now, whatever happens from here on out, the Pirates can be proud of their year and we Pittsburgh fans can rejoice in the 2013 season.
Even if they can't beat the Cardinals, I can now say I'll be happy with this year. They've vastly overperformed my expectations. Any more wins is a bonus in my book, not something to be sad about if they miss it. Does that make me a bad fan? No, just one that is glad to get what he can. Not everyone can win the World Series. You only live once: enjoy what life gives you. :-)
On another note, I think the fans did get to Cueto (what a bizarre and awesome turn off events). But he didn't have his best stuff tonight regardless. I've always thought that getting inside a player's head is overrated in sports (cf. icing the kicker, or yelling at a free throw shooter, neither of which is effective).
Thank you, Bucs, for a great year.
@whygavs Perfect article man. Perfect night. Can't wait to see what this team can do. Proud to say I saw them win a game this year. Raise it
@whygavs I assumed your "recap" would be you saying, "That was perfect" and a GIF of Hurdle and champagne.
@whygavs congratulations. enjoy the ride. go forth and do damage.
It was awesome to see the team play with such confidence. A new chapter is written in Pirates history and it tells a great story.
I almost have no words for I experienced tonight. Crossing the bridge, and all you seen was a sea of humanity from the Clemente statue to the other end of the stadium. An hour before the game, the crowds inside were already raucous and that nervous energy was building up.
The place was packed well before the player introductions, and the mood was set when the crowd treated Dusty Baker and the Reds starting lineup as any villainous rivalry. From that point forward, the crowd was not going to stop.
This was something special.
Just got back. Leading a standing ovation in the upper deck for Byrd coming out to warm up. "Let's go Bucs!" drowning out the Reds' introductions. Cheering like we won the World Series after Liriano's first strikeout; knew it was his night by the end of the first inning. Byrd homers. Cueto drops the ball. Cueto serves up another homer. "MVP! MVP!" Shouting down a guy who wanted to start the wave with "Liriano! [clap,clap, clap clap clap]" The crowd refusing to get down whenever any of our pitchers got into trouble. Piling on the runs. Grilli locks it down. Everyone just stands and cheers for another five minutes before we even think about leaving. Amazing night.
(Cueto dropped the ball!)
@AndreMarc To heck with 1990. The real sad post-season loss to the damn Cincy Redflegs was Game #5 (clinching game) in 1972 when the Bucs blew a 1 run lead in the bottom of the ninth on a Johnny Bench solo blast off of Guisti. Later that inning Bob Moose's wildpitch brought home the winning run. Those two teams were evenly matched and all their games were tight. The other sad note to that game, Roberto Clemente walked off of an mlb field as a proud Pirate for the very last time.
@ChikkaChiChi The Reds seemed to be channeling the early 90's Pirate playoff teams.
- Power outage from the heart of the line up? Check.
- Second Baseman booting a crucial ground ball? Check. (Still love ya, Chico Lind)
- Subjected to obnoxious (yet non offensive) chant from the crowd? Check.
(Note to self: Need to cyber squat on the domain name Where Have You Gone Aroldis Chapman and the handle WHYGAC)
@amandarykoff That probably would've worked better than trying to actually put it into words ...
The only times in memory I can think of a crowd which I've seen this intense were Wrigley Field in the Playoffs and Beaver Stadium for a PSU football game against Ohio State in 2005. There are probably others I can't remember...
That's exactly the "longer history" I referred to. I growled at the decision to bring in Giusti at that point with a perfectly functional Hernandez pitching. I was just pointing out that there was a background to the 1990-1992 fiascos, and it revolved absolutely around the Reds. I think we're on the same page here. BTW, under the circumstances, I thought the decision to bring in Moose was the right one. It just didn't work out. I must say, though, that I don't agree with your "To heck with 1990" statement. That clearly was related to the long Pitt/Cincy history.
Never been to a Pen's Stanley Cup Finals game ? Same atmosphere the way I have seen and heard it. The only point I would find problems with Pat is when you say that the Reds barely seemed to threaten Liriano. That foul ball of Frazier's that missed the foul pole by a couple of feet with two on looked pretty threatening to me ! Outside of that,I thought Liriano was tremendous.
You're right. Hockey fans are routinely very rowdy. Even the NY Islanders crowd in their Saturday afternoon playoffs game against the Pens this year was insane.
@lee1943 Yes, I hate to admit that I agree with the Dustpan (Baker) about much of anything but Frazier's long shot that just missed clanking off the foul pole might have put a whole different spin on the game. But, I also got the sense that the Redlegs couldn't wait to be done with that game, the season and each other. Is it my imagination or do the Cincy players look unhappy most of the time? Is that what having to play for the Dustpan eventually creates?