Winning season? Pirates seek greater definition
Pittsburgh not willing to settle for regular-season landmark
MILWAUKEE -- There have been years when a .500 season would have been cause for jubilation, rejoicing and unrestrained glee with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But for the 2013 Pirates, .500 is merely a signpost on the road to something much, much better.
"This club is good enough to win it all," said newly-arrived outfielder Marlon Byrd.
"We're playing to win a World Series," said center fielder and MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. "That's what we're here for. That's what it's all about."
OK, the Pittsburgh picture should be coming into focus.
The Pirates officially broke out of a two-decade losing streak on Tuesday night with a 4-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, with Travis Snider supplying the winning run on a pinch-hit homer in the ninth. It was the Pirates' 81st victory of the season, against just 57 losses. For the first time since 1992, the Pittsburgh franchise will not have a losing season.
In clear and cogent ways, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle put that status in perspective.
"It's a step in the right direction," Hurdle said. "It was on our to-do list."
And then, Hurdle said, there was the connection to franchise icon Roberto Clemente and the Clemente family.
"The family I'm happy for is the Clemente family," Hurdle said. "I talked with them early in the season and they told me we can't have 21 losing seasons, we have to find a way to not have Roberto's number tied to that. I told them we would do everything we can to take care of that. And that's been taken care of.
"We'll move on from here and our plans are to continue to play and compete."
The end of the sub-.500 run was fine, but there was a larger prize available for viewing. The deal with the Pirates on this night was that they were now two games ahead of second-place St. Louis in the NL Central, after the Cardinals had lost to Cincinnati, 1-0.
It is September. The Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place, on top in the most competitive division race in the Majors. There is nothing fluky about any of this. After 138 games, the Pirates lead the Major Leagues in team earned run average. Their pitching is good enough to bring any goal within reach.
And, seizing the long-awaited opportunity, Pirates management astutely made some additions that have already demonstrated their usefulness. First baseman Justin Morneau, playing his third game as a Pirate, had three hits Tuesday night. The third was a thing of beauty, a hit-and-run single that moved what would become Pittsburgh's third run to third base in the eighth inning. From there, Byrd, playing his seventh game as a Pirate, drove the run in with a double.
There was either some justice or some irony -- or maybe both -- in the fact that the Pirates struck down the losing streak at Miller Park. From 2007 through 2012, the Pirates were a painful 7-44 in Milwaukee. Over those six seasons, two of those Milwaukee clubs were postseason qualifiers, ut nothing can fully explain or fully rationalize away that kind of futility.
This year, the Pirates are a nice, healthy 5-3 at Miller Park. They expect to win. And they do win. On merit. And they may very well continue winning, on merit, more than any other club in the NL Central.
"It feels like a dream almost, because we've had a lot of years of losing," McCutchen said. "But we're winning, we continue to get better, it's fun to be a part of it. We're one stop closer every day. We need to continue to do things right, continue to keep winning."
"It's nice being part of this," Byrd said. "We have one focus and that's getting to the playoffs and winning the whole thing."
So that 81st victory of the year had some historical significance, stopping the Pittsburgh losing streak at 20 years, leaving Roberto Clemente's number untouched.
For the purposes of this season, this victory was one intermediate step on a journey that the Pirates legitimately hope leads to a division title and an October full of baseball.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.