By: Chris Gates

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — So here we are, 19 games into the season and heading to the place where last year it all unraveled.

The Pirates head to Atlanta tonight for the first of a three-game series against the Braves. They’ll play in a ballpark where umpire Jerry Meals had his name forever etched in Pittsburgh sports folklore, deeming Julio Lugo safe at home plate to end a 19-inning marathon game.

Problem was, Lugo was clearly out by the tag of Pirates catcher Michael McKenry. Afterwards Meals, still reluctant to fully admit he was wrong, said “I looked at the replays and it appeared he might have got him on the shin area. I’m guessing he might have got him, but when I was out there when it happened, I didn’t see a tag.”

The actual call wasn’t as bad as what transpired after the 19th inning.

The Pirates collapsed.

Headed into that fateful game, the Buccos were 53-47 and battling for first place in the NL Central. After that call, they went just 19-42 to finish the season, plummeting in the standings and killing the baseball fever that swept this town.

By the final game of the season, you would have never known the Pirates had inspired this town to believe in the first four months of the season. It was back to the usual September transition to Steelers football, where the City of Pittsburgh basically forgot baseball was still being played.

This year, the Pirates (8-10) have had their struggles, but remain near the .500 mark. Despite putrid run support, the pitching staff has been outstanding and allowed the club to survive the toughest schedule in Major League Baseball.

That strong pitching should continue tonight, as A.J. Burnett takes the mound for his second start of the season. In his first appearance — a rushed call-up because of an oblique injury to Kevin Correia — Burnett pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out seven.

Braves starter Tommy Hanson is coming off a strong start as well, throwing seven innings against Arizona and allowing just two runs.

Like so many games already this season, tonight’s game and the rest of the series will likely come down to if the Pirates bats can not only get on base, but drive in runs.

The lineup has been better at getting runners on base over the last week or so. Now it’s time to get those men across home plate.

With Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez showing some life at the plate recently, Pittsburgh might be in a good position to beef up the run support. They haven’t scored more than five runs yet this season.

Alvarez has been the focus of basically anyone that covers this team lately, and he leads off the links…

Chris Gates | Bucs Blog

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