Reporting Colin Dunlap
Pressure on the Pirates?
There is zero, nada, zilch.
When that first pitch is thrown in the deciding Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Pirates and Cardinals on Wednesday night inside Busch Stadium, there won’t be one iota of pressure on the visiting team or rookie starter Gerrit Cole.
Certainly the Pirates have us all wrapped up in Buctober and the crowd at PNC Park has been able to perform their own brand of black magic on the opposition at times during this season — and especially at times in the playoffs — but don’t let it muddy the waters for the real story in all of this: the Pirates remain a band of overachievers.
These Pirates are a club that could be on the cusp of building something great here in Pittsburgh, right on the precipice of jumping from baseball’s have-nots into the haves. There is no question, however, the love affair with the Pirates for many in this country during this postseason is extracted solely from the valleys and hard times realized by the club over the past two decades.
In short, they were the losers who have become oh-so lovable.
On the other hand, the Cardinals are in the playoffs for the 10th time since 2001, are just a few years removed from a World Series crown and have averaged 90.4 wins per season over the past decade.
Again, try and tell me that any smidgen of pressure is on the Pirates in Game 5.
I dare you to do it.
Quite simply, there is none — all of it is on the Redbirds.
This Pirates story has now become akin to a longshot-seed advancing into the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament — with each moment that passes, each victory that the team piles up, more and more people jump aboard to pull for what started out as a tremendous underdog but has built an overwhelming head of steam.
Also, with each moment that passes and that underdog is still playing before being eliminated, the pressure and anxiety mounts up on the opposition more — because they are supposed to be there — than it ever could on the team that has shocked the masses by just reaching such a point.
In short, to me at least, this is still a tale of the Cardinals in some ways being Duke, Kansas or North Carolina with the Pirates being Eastern Western Something Somewhere Directional State who got hot at the right time and has captivated a nation.
Now, manager Clint Hurdle and this front office could build their version of Eastern Western Something Somewhere Directional State into one of those mid-majors that no one wants to play in years to come, one that continually steps up and knocks out the big boys.
Or, this could be a one-and-done run.
Who knows what will happen moving forward.
All that is known, at least from this vantage point, is that in Wednesday night’s showdown at Busch, the Cardinals will enter in the eyes of many as one of baseball’s traditional powers with the Pirates sauntering onto the field just as much great story as great team.
Again, remind me who all the pressure is on there?
Go back to late-March and revisit the prognostications from many who have covered this team for years — some even for decades — and you know what the resounding majority thought would happen with this 2013 vintage of the Pittsburgh Pirates?
That they would finish about .500.
That a season with around 82 wins was attainable and maybe, just maybe, this would be the year The Curse of Sid Bream’s Slide would be exterminated for good.
In a Spring Training interview with The Fan Morning Show, Hurdle explained a template of improvement that he thought could propel his team from 79 wins in 2012 to 95 wins this regular season.
Some thought he was nuts. He ended up being one win away from following that pattern perfectly.
Still, this has been accomplished independently, one hard charge through 2013 as the Pirates are bent on improving for the long haul has delivered us here, to a deciding Game 5 with the Cardinals.
“It will be our game No. 168,” Hurdle explained. “It will also be the 24th time we’ve played the Cardinals. We’ve played them close. It has been a very respectful, challenging series.
“The game is going to be out there for somebody to win it. You’ve got to make plays; you’ve got to execute pitches; you’ve got to have quality at bats. And every once in a while, something completely apart from that could happen.”
Yes, something such as the Cardinals succumbing to the pressure.
Because, remember, it is all on them. Every single drop of it.
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 email@example.com. Check out his bio here.