Fans as much a factor in Bucs' win as players
Pirates consider crowd, biggest in PNC Park history, a variable in victory
PITTSBURGH -- Champagne flew, beer was shaken and sprayed, people yelled, music played. It was a typical postseason clinching scene in the home clubhouse, except for one huge factor: It was taking place in Pittsburgh, a city void of a baseball champagne celebration for more than 20 years.
Players laughed and hugged and poured beer on one another while answering questions from hordes of reporters, but there was a different feel to this one. The questions and answers were not necessarily about the specifics of the game and the clutch performances during the Pirates' 6-2 win over the Reds in the National League Wild Card Game. Instead, the focus seemed to be on the atmosphere at PNC Park, namely the fans who packed the stadium and barely took a moment to breathe as they chanted and cheered and cajoled the opponents through all nine innings of this dramatic win.
The largest crowd in PNC Park history, dressed in Pittsburgh's signature black-and-gold combination, was loud before the game, loud during the game and loud when Jason Grilli nailed down the final out. But really, "loud" doesn't really paint an accurate picture. This was ear-splitting noise, which seemed to fuel the Pirates and rattle the Reds.
"I really thought it started with the crowd, it started with our atmosphere," Andrew McCutchen said. "It was great to see everybody wearing all black. If I was the other team, I definitely wouldn't want to be here. I wouldn't want to play here, because of how loud it was. Just to have all those fans into it, into the game, it says a lot."
Exactly how loud was the crowd? During pregame introductions, the public-address announcer was drowned out by "Let's Go Bucs" while introducing the Reds' starting lineup.
Those chants of "Let's Go Bucs" soon gave way to taunts of "Cueeeeto, Cueeeeto," directed toward Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto.
Whether Cueto dropping the baseball while getting ready to face Russell Martin had anything to do with the chants is anyone's guess, and it's hard to say for certain if Martin's home run on the next pitch had anything to do with Cueto losing focus. But it sure seems as though the fans, and their chants, may have played a role in all of this.
"It has to," Martin said. "I'm not Cueto. I don't know how he felt. But we could definitely hear the crowd. When you can hear the crowd, that's something."
Major League players have an uncanny ability to block out such outside factors as noise, hecklers, stadium announcements and scoreboard gimmicks, but during this game, it was nearly impossible not to notice what was going on in the stands. For that, the fans got a huge tip of the hat from Pirates personnel as they celebrated their first Division Series berth.
"They were all into it," Grilli said. "It was a variable. I can't feel my legs, still, because of the adrenaline pump that I got from that noise. You just have to stay focused and do your thing that you've done all year long."
"Our city showed up tonight," said manager Clint Hurdle. "Our fan base showed up. The park showed up. Then the players went out and played, and they showed up. I couldn't be more proud."
Winning the season series over the Reds seemingly never loomed larger, given the advantage the Bucs ended up receiving by playing this win-or-go-home game in Pittsburgh.
"That's an impressive showing from our fans," Hurdle said. "This never gets old. I've been in a lot of big venues. This was as exciting for me as anything I've experienced on a ball field."
The other storyline, of course, focused on the Pirates breaking a string of futility that started after their heartbreaking exit from the playoffs in 1992. The 2013 season will now be remembered for two things: ending a seemingly neverending streak of sub-.500 seasons, and ending a two-decades-long postseason drought.
Even though the current members of the Bucs weren't a part of the early years of futility, they still appreciate the impact that this win, and this magical season, has had on the city.
"We definitely understand," McCutchen said. "We know what this franchise is all about. There were all the years of losing, but we didn't look at it that way. We looked at what the franchise was when they won, back when they had Willie Stargell and when they had Dave Parker and when they had [Roberto] Clemente, [Bill] Mazeroski, [Manny] Sanguillen. We remember those. That's what we want to bring back."
Especially if it means updating the decor at PNC Park.
"Since coming over here, I've seen those banners above the crowd by the press box, and there's a space that's right at that '79," Grilli said, referring to the year of the Pirates' last World Series title. "I've had to stare at that, along with a lot of guys in the bullpen. We're hoping we can change that."