"Boo, Cardinals! Boo!"
A cackling laugh came next, directly to my left. This wouldn't be unusual ... except I was sitting at a bar.
With my fiancée.
At 11 a.m.
I look over and see a backward Pirates hat hovering over a plate of quiche and summer salad, empty Bloody Mary glass just a short reach away. There were more coming, don't worry.
"You here for the game, man?"
This was a chat I couldn't pass up.
"Oh, yeah. My buddies and I make a baseball trip at least once a year. I live in Vegas. Obviously, I'm a Pirates fan though. I'm glad we got to come here this year."
This was the morning after the Pirates' 9-4 thumping of the Cardinals in Game 1, so I understood his enthusiasm. But after he found out why I would be joining him at the game Saturday evening, he took on a slightly different tone:
"You want a fan reaction? Here ya go. Here's your quote: Bob Nutting needs to go. So does Neal Huntington. They are [expletive redacted for the children]. Give us a winning team back."
Bloody Marys be damned, that's a pretty sober take, my man. And that was before the Pirates laid a no-good, rotten, disgusting, error-ridden egg in Game 2, falling 10-1 to the Cardinals on an otherwise gorgeous 76-degree stunner at PNC Park.
My new friend's story got better, too. Way better.
After I probed a bit, learning a bit more about him as he did the same, the puzzle pieces fell into place. I mean, yeah, your friend's a Cardinals fan. You're a Pirates fan. But there's also a Dodgers fan in your group — that proud guy in the middle just chuckling at it all. You've talked about going to other parks other years during your annual baseball voyage. It's not like you guys get together just for the Pirates or just for the Cardinals. It's just some old friends bonding over baseball, yeah?
So why here in a meaningless September? And why so damn excited when your team is well over a dozen games under .500?
"Check this out: I didn't always live in Vegas. When I was 13, my mom promised me — I wasn't good in school, mind you — but she promised me if I got all A's and B's I could get tickets to the World Series. This was 1979."
Oh... That team.
"Algebra ... not fun. But I did it. I had a B-minus, and mom let me go. Game 5, I'll never forget it, man. I'll always carry that one with me. I ended up with a D in algebra, by the way. But I had a B when it mattered."
That remains the last World Series game played in Pittsburgh, as the Pirates would win that one then back-to-back contests in Baltimore to button up the most recent championship in the club's history ... 40 years ago.
But it's not just my dude in the next seat over at the Commoner in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh preaching this particular gospel. It's ... everyone. Everywhere. Despite this season.
"I've been to AFC Championship games, bro, and nothing — nothing — comes close to that Cueto game," a local shop owner was telling me recently, referring to the Pirates' 2013 Wild Card victory over the Reds. You remember that one. You know exactly the sequence he's referring to here. He deals in vintage clothing, which includes quite a bit of Pirates merchandise, because ... uhh ... all the cool, meaningful Pirates merchandise is vintage. Nineteen seventy-nine, remember?
"You want to talk about a city craving a winning team? It's right here. I still think Pittsburgh is a baseball town at its core."
You know what Pittsburgh has instead?
They have a team that is 2-19 at home when giving up 10-plus runs, 62-80 overall. But think about that: 19 times people like my new friend from the bar and the shop owner showed up, all giddy and nostalgic and just freaking excited for some baseball, and the home team gave up 10-plus.
Like Thursday night against the Marlins.
Stretching the boundary just a bit more, these Pirates have given up five or more runs 77 times in 2019. They've played 142 games. Last season, in the full 161 games played, they gave up five-plus just 66 times. They finished 82-79, not exactly lighting the MLB world on fire.
They're just that much worse this year.
Nineteen seventy-nine never seemed so far away.
The first pitch Steven Brault threw Saturday night went back, back, back and back a little more, deep to the warning track in right field.
Jose Osuna caught it for the first out. But it signaled things to come.
Like this in the third:
By the end of Brault's night, mercifully yanked after registering one out in the sixth, fans were treated to the following line:
• 5 1/3 innings pitched, six hits, six runs, five earned runs, one balk, one hit batter ...
Then it looked like a slot machine at the Rivers — jackpot! — only here, the payout was mediocrity on the mound:
• two walks, two strikeouts, two wild pitches
In all, Brault threw 96 pitches, 58 of them for strikes, a 60-percent clip. None of it was lost on him. He wasn't at his best tonight, and he fully acknowledged that. Life rolls on, and the next start will come soon enough.
"You're not going to feel the same way every day," Brault was telling media at his locker after the game. "The way I was taught is that if you have 30 starts a year, you're going to have four starts where you feel incredible, four starts where you feel terrible and then 22 starts where you're somewhere in the middle.
"Tonight was the somewhere in the middle, but, you know, near the bad side. Three-run home runs are day-killers. So keep the ball out of the stands, and it'll be a different ballgame."
You saw the gif up there, yeah? The ball did go in the stands, and it wasn't a different ballgame. It was a thrashing. When the offense musters just one run — that coming in the third inning, no less — that'll happen.
Add in two errors, three wild pitches and a passed ball? That's when it goes from bad to ugly.
"We had another workout today, team fundamentals," Clint Hurdle was saying in his postgame presser. "We're doing what we can ... Guys gotta go out and play the game, make plays. We haven't done it ... Way too many free 90s today."
Free 90s, bought-and-paid-for 90s — the Cardinals took it all on this Saturday evening in the North Shore.
They posted 11 hits, including two from starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and another from Yadier Molina that ran his current streak to 14 games. Paul DeJong added two RBIs off Clay Holmes. Harrison Bader and Tommy Edman each brought in a run. It was total team domination.
"It's a cliche to say the whole one-through-nine thing," Brault was saying. "But with [Wainwright] in the ninth spot, it really is. And then to have that lineup, it's a very balanced lineup. Obviously, they have some slug up at the top with [Paul Goldschmidt] and [Marcell Ozuna] but then it doesn't take any breaks ... You've got a lot of guys that are just ready to go any time, and you've gotta be sharp against them."
Brault wasn't. Clay Holmes wasn't in relief. Parker Markel wasn't in relief. The result? 10-1.
To continue reading, log into your account: