As fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates, we’ve seen this act before.
Last year, actually.
We all remember the Pirates’ 2011 season. The team sat above .500 on July 27 and even near the top of the National League Central standings. Then the infamous Jerry Meals game happened and the Pirates began an unimaginable stretch of losses for a team so poised not only to finish above .500 for the first time in nearly two decades, but for postseason play.
The team went on to finish an abysmal 72-90 after going 18-38 in the final two months of the season.
While Jerry Meals’ call can’t be considered the sole reason for the Pirates’ descent into oblivion, it was certainly a marked turning point in the season.
Unfortunately, we may have seen a similar turning point for the 2012 season.
On Friday, Augst 10, the 63-48 Pirates hosted the bottom-feeding San Diego Padres at PNC Park. After gaining a seemingly insurmountable 7-1 lead through four innings, the Bucs were feeling great. Sure, pitcher James McDonald - who was on the hill that night – had been going through a rough patch of recent outings, but the 27-year-old had a six-run lead and had been pitching well through four innings. McDonald had been pitching like a Cy Young candidate up until he was inexcusably left off the NL All-Star Roster by former St. Louis Cardinals manger Tony LaRussa, as well.
Then, the unthinkable happened. McDonald spontaneously combusted, giving up six fifth inning runs and blowing a six-run lead to one of the worst offenses in Major League Baseball. He finished with a line of 7 earned runs over 4.1 IP
The Pirates battled back to take the lead again in the sixth inning, but reliever Tony Watson allowed two runs over 1.2 IP and the Pirates were handed an absurd 9-8 loss.
The team simply hasn’t been the same since.
The Pirates have dropped five of their last six games and have fallen six games back of the Central-leading Cincinnati Reds. They also hold just a 0.5-game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants/Los Angeles Dodgers for the second NL Wild Card spot.
The pitching has been uncharacteristically poor and Andrew McCutchen‘s MLB-leading batting average has dropped from .374 all the way down to .359 during the stretch.
Unfortunately, the Pirates are in the middle of a four-game series with the Dodgers and have already lost the first two games of the series. Then, they get the Cardinals for a road series.
Today, the team held a closed door players-only meeting before their game with Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers to address this tough stretch of games. The veteran leaders of the team – most notably A.J. Burnett and Rod Barajas- will surely be leading the much-needed meeting.
It will be interesting to see if the team can turn it around now and avoid yet another tragically disappointing end to the season. Should the Pirates falter again and fall out of playoff contention soon, the city’s bandwagon fans may never return until a future playoff spot is actually clinched.
First pitch tonight is at 7:05 PM and Wandy Rodriguez gets the ball for the Bucs. While the 2011 NL Cy Young winner isn’t exactly the pitcher you want to see in such a meaningful game, the Pirates are going to have to overcome the adversity and prove to the city, to the league and to the world that they are true contenders tonight.
We may have watched the beginning of the end of the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates last Friday night against the Padres, or tonight may be the beginning of the end of these hard times.
Let’s hope it’s the latter.
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