PITTSBURGH - Hard to believe, but some people are either criticizing or ridiculing the Pittsburgh Pirates for their celebration at clinching a postseason spot.
This is a franchise that hadn't had a winning season since 1992, and had a 57-105 record in 2010.
Yes, the reality is their stay in the postseason could last all of three hours. But don't begrudge their embracing of a special moment.
They beat the Chicago Cubs Monday night, then went back to the tiny Wrigley Field clubhouse in time to see the Washington Nationals lose, the other part of the ticket that had to be punched.
They yelled, they popped open bottles of champagne and made a fizzy mess of the clubhouse. When the champagne ran out, they spilled beer. Works just as well.
The Cincinnati Reds also clinched a postseason berth on Monday, but there was no celebration. Manager Dusty Baker told the clubhouse workers not to order champagne, and not to worry about putting protective plastic sheeting over the lockers.
That's fine for the Reds. They were in the playoffs last season, and were expected to win this year. A wild card spot isn't a big deal for them.
For the Pirates, this wasn't just a celebration. It was an exorcism.
They ended the streak of losing seasons a few weeks ago, but that wasn't enough. They needed to get to October.
The ones who have been here a while know what it's been like. They've seen the kids wearing Steelers and Penguins gear, because those have been the teams that play the big games.
The Pirates? Well, PNC Park is a great place and at least there's a lot of added value, like free T-shirts and concerts and a lot of fireworks.
After consecutive second-half fades, the Pirates learned to finesse the inevitable questions that would come when July turned into August. Beyond "wait and see," what else was there to say?
The Pirates again have a nasty rivalry with the Reds because both teams have something at stake. You can't have a real rivalry when one of the teams isn't relevant.
The Pirates of a previous generation knew they were coming of age when Dwight Gooden complained they acted like a bunch of Little Leaguers. That's what happens when the excitement of winning is new. It trumps the money and everything else.
There were times like the early 1970s and early '90s when the playoffs were routine for the Pirates. That was a long time ago, though.
Lately, though, it's been heartache and frustration and fans leaving when the Steelers opened camp (and not missing much).
This year was different, finally. The Pirates revamped their starting staff on the fly. They owned the late innings, thanks to a strong bullpen. They got by with a subpar offense. When they needed reinforcements at the end, they went out and got them.
They were a real major league baseball team this year. People started shopping for Pirates gear again.
They got to 90 wins Monday night in Chicago, a nice round number. Better than that, they finally slayed the demons that had stubbornly stuck around too long.
The celebration was not only appropriate, it was mandatory. Soak the jolly roger.
Mehno can be reached at email@example.com