Mehno: Nothing sells tickets like a winning team

PITTSBURGH – People love the Pirates! Contrary to what they’re saying on TV at 5, 6 and 11, this is not breaking news.

The Pirates are winning. People love a winner. A lot of people who didn’t know Mario Lemieux from Mario Lanza developed an interest in hockey when the Penguins started winning the Stanley Cup.

When the winning follows 20 dreary years, it’s even more profound. The Pirates are a hot ticket. Merchandise is moving. It’s even trickled down to the chintzy crap being hawked across from the home plate gate – things like “player necklaces” and $1 eye patches (Two of those would have been handy for the 13-0 loss to the Cardinals).

You can market relentlessly. The Pirates read to kids at libraries, they serve meals at soup kitchens and they kiss babies at meet-and-greets. It all helps, but nothing sells tickets like one of the best records in baseball.

When Jim Leyland first took over in Detroit, there was a spike in ticket sales as the Tigers contended Leyland butted heads with the team’s marketing department, which seemingly had a daily appearance scheduled for every player.

“We’re drawing because we’re winning, not because somebody signed an autograph at Joe’s Pickle Shop,” Leyland grumbled.

The Pirates’ demolition of St. Louis is clearly a high point, although the talented Cardinals appeared to be flatter than highway squirrels. But that’s what good teams do, take advantage of a vulnerable opponent.

It’s a season that already seems to be neck-deep in magic dust, and people are embracing it. Enjoy the ride.

This is certain: When the Pirates start the season next year, they’ll have something they didn’t have when this season opened: Expectations.

Standing pat

If the prices were too high, GM Neal Huntington was correct to pass on trades for nominal upgrades.

But the problem remains that the Pirates have a lightweight offense and will be vulnerable if their pitching backslides at all.

Michael McKenry’s season-ending knee injury should be a cautionary tale, and not because a backup catcher is irreplaceable. He was hurt on a routine slide into second base.

What if that happened to one of the players vital to the Pirates’ already-struggling offense? It’s too scary to ponder.

Meanwhile, Andrew Lambo continues to hit home runs in the minor leagues. Maybe he can help. But you get the feeling that if the Pirates thought he was a viable answer he would already be here.

Five-hour energy

MLB can be cruel. The Dodgers got stuck with a schedule that had them playing in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, then in Chicago on Thursday night. They followed that with a day game on Friday.

The Dodgers arrived in Chicago at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, just in time for the team buses to join rush-hour traffic.

MLB banned amphetamines, so you can bet the visiting clubhouse workers were wearing out a path to any Starbucks in the vicinity of Wrigley Field.

Always a hit

Kids hoping to become major league players should know there are three requirements: Talent, confidence and the unshakable belief there’s nothing funnier than a shaving cream pie during a postgame TV interview.

Mehno can be reached at