Giger: These Pirates are winners, plain and simple
PITTSBURGH – Forget about one and done. It’s won and moving on for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And they made it look easy Tuesday night with a 6-2 thumping of the Cincinnati Reds at an electric PNC Park.
No folding under the immense pressure of a one-game playoff. Not this group of winners.
That’s right: winners.
That’s really what this whole season has been all about.
“It’s just a good team, man,” closer Jason Grilli said. “We know how to win.”
The losing culture that engulfed the Pirates for 20 years left many painful scars for fans, but oddly enough, that all feels like a distant memory. That culture permeated throughout the major league team and was one of the biggest reasons why, year after year, the Pirates never really had much hope.
They were America’s losers for so long, which makes it such a wonderful story that they now have become America’s darlings. Not America’s team, a cliche some in the national media has been running with, but certainly the best story going right now in pro sports.
Since there was nothing else going on in sports Tuesday night, the Pirates were THE story. Anyone who hasn’t paid much attention to them all year got a glimpse of just how good from top to bottom they really are, plus exactly how hungry the great baseball fans of this region truly are after 20 long years.
The crowd was awesome from start to finish.
The team played great from start to finish.
The night was perfect from start to finish.
“The incredible thing is to be able to give back to the fans after all the challenges, after all the work, and for the fans to come out here and create the electric atmosphere that they did was great,” Pirates owner Bob Nutting said.
Hopefully one thing America saw while watching the game is exactly how good the Buccos are – as a TEAM.
They’re not just Andrew McCutchen. The likely National League MVP is probably the only player on the club that many sports fans across the country even know, and in some ways giving him so much credit is actually disrespectful to the great work done by the likes of Francisco Liriano – perhaps the true team MVP – the rest of the outstanding pitching staff, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, Russell Martin and others.
There are so many instrumental pieces to this team, and that’s where tons of credit has to go to general manager Neal Huntington. Many people wanted him fired numerous times over the years, but he stayed the course and brought Pittsburgh a winning team.
Marlon Byrd homered for a 1-0 lead in the second inning Tuesday. Huntington acquired Byrd, incredibly, after the trade deadline and didn’t give up much in return, and sure enough, the outfielder has paid big dividends. (Shrewdly picking up Justin Morneau also after the trade deadline has been icing on the cake.)
“I wanted to come over here and be a piece of the puzzle, help this team win,” Byrd said.
Byrd already knew before he even joined the Pirates that it was a special team.
“We came in and played them when I was still with the Mets, they showed that confidence on the field, they showed they believe they can win,” he said. “And the way that they play the game, you knew that they were winners.”
Martin homered a couple of minutes later to make it 2-0, then put a capper on the evening with another blast in the seventh. Sure, Huntington struck out numerous times in recent years with position player acquisitions, but Martin has been a grand slam.
“We kind of discovered that as we went along in the season,” Martin said of the winner’s mentality. “Early on we knew we had talent, we knew that we had good pitching. But a lot of teams have that and don’t pan out. But for us it’s about the attitude and how you prepare and how you’re able to grind it out.”
Martin and Byrd were big pickups, for sure, but then there’s Liriano – what a steal.
The guy seemed washed up, for all intents and purposes, yet Huntington saw something in him and made the lefty a top priority last offseason. Huntington has always been very good with his pitcher acquisitions, but getting what they’ve gotten out of Liriano has been nothing short of remarkable.
Liriano was fantastic Tuesday, as he’s been at home all season, and the Reds never had much chance against him.
The new players this season quickly meshed with holdovers from past teams, the farm system began producing quality major leaguers in bulk, and all of a sudden, the talent level and chemistry on the big league club made the Pirates what they are today.
The fact that they won Tuesday at home against a team they’ve owned recently should not have come as a surprise to anyone.
The real surprise would be if the Pirates can find a way to knock off the St. Louis Cardinals, their opponent now in the NL Divisional Series.
Many baseball experts are saying the Cards will get to or win the World Series, and they have everything a team needs to be successful. But so do the Pirates, who just so happen to have won the season series against St. Louis, 10-9.
The Pirates are good enough and have plenty enough pitching to beat the Cardinals and continue this magical season. But that’s still a few days away, so for now, it’s all about enjoying and celebrating what already has been accomplished.
All of which has been spectacular to watch for a region and a fan base that deserve to see a winning baseball team as much as anywhere in pro sports.