By Brandon Niles Explore Big Sky Sports Columnist
Game five of the National League Division Series: Pittsburg Pirates vs. St.
Louis Cardinals, bottom of the sixth inning. Young Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole
has pitched a good game thus far, despite allowing an early two run homer.
Cole is relieved by Justin Wilson, who gives up three hits and a run on a Jon
Jay single, putting the Pirates down 3-0. Things don’t look good for
everyone’s favorite Cinderella team of 2013.
For a fleeting moment – in the top of the seventh – when the Pirates scored
on a two out single from Pedro Alvarez, it seemed like they could pull off an
unlikely comeback. But just two innings later, the Cardinals had extended the
lead to 6-1 and Alvarez was up again – with two outs and runners on first and
Cardinals’ pitcher Adam Wainwright struck out Alvarez and put the nail in the
coffin on an improbable Pirates’ season. Wainwright pitched a complete
game, giving up only one run. When things got tense in the eighth and ninth
innings, he only allowed a combined three singles, and struck out the final
batter to seal a Cardinals victory and a trip to face the LA Dodgers in the
National League Championship Series.
As Alvarez left the plate, the collective air of sports fans seemed to leave with
him. The Pirates this season became a symbol of the quintessential
underdog. While those in big markets know what it’s like to root for a winner,
there are fans everywhere who must endure disappointment every season. It
wasn’t just Pirates fans who felt this loss, it was all of us.
If the Pirates could have made it to the World Series, then certainly another
underdog team could as well, right? Surely my team can make it if the
Pirates, after a 21-year playoff drought, could turn things around.
Alas, the season is over for the Pirates, and fans have begun the annual ritual
of rationalizing disappointment and justifying optimism. But the Pirates have
a lot to celebrate, as a young team with lots of talent in the bullpen and solid
hitters. Alvarez took a huge step this year after four inconsistent seasons,
and Andrew McCutchen maintained his All-Star play, batting over .300 for the
second straight year.
From those who know the pain of rooting for a losing team, we thank the
Pittsburgh Pirates. With the series tied at two games apiece, we got to
imagine for a moment what it’s like for a baseball team from a small city with
a small bankroll to make it all the way.
The Pirates have the talent to return next year, and until then, fans can
cherish this season, and begin building hope and excitement.