Friday was particularly cruel to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not only did they lose another ballgame, ensuring that for a record 20th straight season the franchise would finish a Major League baseball season under .500, to put an exclamation point on the squad’s dismal slide since mid-summer, the depression-clinching loss came on a no-hitter.
There was a giddy moment earlier in this season–actually much longer than a moment, weeks, even months, I dare say–when the Pirates were 16 games over .500 and it seemed nothing could happen to derail the express train to a winning record. Heck, that wasn’t even on the table at the time. There were serious thoughts that the Pirates could win the National League Central Division title, or at the least reach the playoffs as an NL wild-card entry. At that point it seemed centerfielder Andrew McCutchen was the favorite for Most Valuable Player.
But after flirting with the types of things that give a fan base some thrills, the Pirates got caught up in an avalanche, skidded down a slope, and got buried at the bottom. More or less.
Early in the season the Pirates were beneficiaries of terrific pitching, but had to cope with the effects of the equivalent of minor-league hitting. When the hitting picked up, the Pirates started to win. But in the end the pitching couldn’t sustain its high level. James McDonald and A.J. Burnett went from untouchable to easily touched. The Pirates morphed from playoff material to “How ’bout them Steelers?”
No professional American professional sports franchise can match the Pirates for long-term futility. Twenty straight losing seasons is more than any one group of fans should be subjected to in their lives. Baseball’s long season always separates the wheat from the chaff and that’s what happened to the Pirates. Maybe they were only built for 135 games. Certainly, the pleasure of the summer in Pittsburgh was in seeing McCutchen blossom into full-fledged superstar.
The job Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds did on Pittsburgh Friday night in tossing the majors’ seventh no-hitter, equalling the most in a year since 1900, was a definite illustration demonstrating two teams going in the opposite direction. The final score was a close, 1-0, but the distance between the two clubs was huge. The victory was Cincinnati’s 95th of the year and the Reds not only have already won the division crown, they are shaping up as a potential World Series favorite.
If the Reds survive divisional playoffs and the National League Championship Series, pitching is what will carry them. For Bailey, the right-hander with a 13-10 record, it was a dazzling finish to the regular season. Bailey threw 115 pitches, struck out 10 and walked one. Bailey was a happy camper and indicated he thought he was a pretty lucky one, too.
“There is a real fine line there in throwing a no-hitter,” said Bailey, who said he noticed a bunch of zeros on the scoreboard in the fifth inning and that’s when it hit him that a no-hitter was possible. “A bloop can fall in the outfield, or an infielder can be in the wrong position, and there goes your hit.”
But the Pirates haven’t had that type of luck lately. Instead, while the Reds look ahead, the loss dropped the Pirates to 76-81 and they can only shake their heads, wondering how they got there. They felt as if they deserved more this year, but just maybe a bit of optimism will stick. Perhaps when they say “Wait ’til next year” in Pittsburgh this off-season they can mean it.