What was once a great rivalry has come down to a stunning reversal of fortune.
The Philadelphia Phillies, a team that won the World Series in 2008 and appeared in it in 2009, reduced to the role of a spoiler against the once-woeful Pittsburgh Pirates in what used to big a big-time rivalry.
No one could have expected that coming into the season. Certainly not the Phillies fans, who had hopes of contending this year once again. Certainly not the Pirates’ fans, coming off 19 straight losing seasons. That’s what is has come down to, though, and those are just hard realities.
The Phillies spoiled a nine-game Pirate winning streak on Tuesday night, but not even their most rabid fans are entertaining thoughts of getting back into the race. And no Pirate fan would trade places with a Phillies fan right now.
After the opening game of the three-game set, the Phillies are four games below .500 (40-44) and the Pirates are 18 above (50-32). The Pirates raised their stock by scouting well and spending limited resources wisely on their farm system. The Phillies threw as much money at the roster as possible, missing badly more often than hitting in recent seasons.
They committed big money to pitcher Cole Hamels, who is 2-11, and first baseman Ryan Howard, who is hitting .267, with only 10 home runs.
This used to be a big-time rivalry fueled by much more than sharing the same state, but no more. Realignment in 1994 spoiled that. The teams were more regular opponents since 1887 when the Pirates entered a NL already occupied by the Phillies. The Phillies had the better of the 1950s, while the Pirates dominated in the 1960s.
The 1970s, though, intensified the rivalry because both teams were good. The Pirates reached the league championship series six times in the 1970s to the Phillies’ four. After the Pirates scored 10 runs in the top of the first inning of a 1989 game, Pirates’ broadcaster Jim Rooker said: “If we lose this game, I’ll walk home.” (He flew home with the team, but walked from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh for a charity after the season.)
The Phillies advanced to their first World Series since 1915 thanks, in part, to a playoff 1980 series win over the Pirates. The rivalry came to an end when the Pirates won from 1990 through 1992 and the Phillies winning the pennant in 1993.
That was also the last year when Pirates had a good team. It was also the last year the Pirates were in the NL East.
Now, while the rivalry is an afterthought, the prevailing thought for both groups of Pennsylvania fans is what goes around comes around, even if it took 19 years to do so.