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Colin Dunlap: Pirates Fans Had A Huge Part In Wild Card Win

By: Colin Dunlap
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(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

dunlap-head-shot Colin Dunlap
Weeknights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and...
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Be proud, Pittsburgh.

This one was for you.

Actually, more accurately, this one might have been because of you — at least to some degree. And maybe to a pretty deep degree.

When 40,487 fans crammed into PNC Park for the National League Wild Card Game on Tuesday night against the Cincinnati Reds — and many more flanked the stadium and found space on the Roberto Clemente Bridge or anywhere else nearby — it created what will go down in the long history of Pittsburgh sports as one of the most undeniable homefield advantages.

Don’t ever forget this night.

Don’t ever forget what you did.

Don’t ever forget how you screamed your damn heads off.

Don’t ever forget that black magic you created.

As he was getting drenched in a celebratory clubhouse just after a game which the Pirates won, 6-2, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told Craig Sager of TBS, “Our guys fed off of this from the beginning.”

Indeed they did. From the beginning right down until that 27th out, when the place was as deafening as five rock concerts.

All too often, and especially in baseball, the merits of a homefield advantage can be overplayed. Many times you are, quite simply, as good as your starting pitcher allows you to be. In this instance, the Pirates starting pitcher, Francisco Liriano, was marvelous.

No one will discount the seven innings of four-hit baseball that the left-hander threw, striking out five and yielding just that one run. Liriano was good; impeccably good.

No one will ever be able to discount the second inning home runs by Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin, either. They were blasts that propelled the Pirates’ offense.

But would this night have been the same without the raucous, rambunctious and deafening crowd? Here is a vote vehemently in the “no” column.

The crowd, too, was the precise type of crowd that a team needs behind it in games of the biggest consequence.

That is to say, it wasn’t a crowd that sat and waited for something big to happen, to be spurned on and then be sent a signal of sorts to cheer.

On the contrary, this was a crowd that had milled around the North Shore most of the day, gathering steam — and perhaps a brew or two — hell bent on making the night as difficult on the Reds as possible. And when the gates opened, even before the player introductions, this was a crowd pointed and direct, with the sole purpose of being that 10th man. And the 11th man. And the 12th man. And the 13 man …..

It was pure Pittsburgh — part of the team, ingrained in the fabric of those guys out there on that playing surface.

There were times that the crowd was so much of a factor, it appeared Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto wanted to be anywhere but in the middle of a baseball diamond in the middle of Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

Don’t think for one moment that the fans didn’t have an impact on the despair felt by Cueto and, by extension, his performance.

The incessant and biting chants of “CUEEEEEEEETO, CUEEEEEEEETO” frazzled the Reds pitcher. He wasn’t himself as he labored through 3 1/3 innings, giving up seven hits and three earned runs including two home runs.

The damage done in those first three frames were enough to make this game the final one for the Reds this season.

Again, though, the damage done by that vociferous crowd was enough to mentally tax Cueto — so much so that at one point he zoned out to the point where he dropped the ball in between pitches.

Cueto, as he was figuratively dropping the ball for his team, did so in literal form as well, losing grasp of the baseball as it rolled out of his hand and a few feet away.

That wasn’t an accident; it was a result of mental fatigue brought on by the crowd that clamored as loud as seemingly any football crowd in these parts the past decade.

You did this, Pittsburgh. You made Cueto lose his mind. And, rightly so, you jeered him when he dropped that ball.

Know why? You made that happen — you did that to him, you earned it. Without the crowd going crazy at him, I’m firmly convinced that moment never happens.

At one point during the broadcast of this game, Pirates announcer Greg Brown said on 93.7 The Fan, “Pittsburgh is about to burst.”

I’d argue with Greg on this point. On Tuesday night, some will say Pittsburgh did burst, right there at the seams.

And our glorious city did so because of the fans.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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