It should come as no surprise that the Pittsburgh Pirates go into tonight’s decisive game five of the NLDS on the road against the St. Louis Cardinals as the overwhelming underdogs. As someone who grew up a Bucs fan and later had the pleasure of following them as a TV reporter I can tell you the Pirates have a history of being underestimated in the postseason.
The 1960 World Series the Pirates took on a New York Yankees team that by all accounts should have swept the Bucs in four games. It was a Yankee team that boasted Micky Mantle, Roger Marris, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford just to name a few of their great stars.
But despite the Yankees winning 10 pennants in 12 years and the Bronx Bombers outscoring the Pirates 55–27 in this Series, outhitting them 91–60, hitting 10 home runs to the Bucs’ four (three of which came in Game 7), and getting two complete-game shutouts from Whitey Ford they still lost to the Pirates in seven games.
Game 7 will forever be remembered for Bill Mazeroski‘s walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Pirates won the World Series 10-9. The Yankees were so upset for losing the World Series to Pittsburgh that it cost their manager the legendary Casey Stengel his job.
In 1971 the Pirates then led by superstar Roberto Clemente faced a Baltimore Orioles team that had won a MLB leading 101 games in the regular season. Once again the Pirates were the underdogs, and true to form they came home the World Series Champions.
It was another seven games series that was decided in the final game in Baltimore. Steve Blass pitched a complete game four-hitter in winning Game 7, 2–1, against Mike Cuellar and the Orioles. Clemente was named the World Series MVP. In a tragic twist of fate, the games would be the last ones played by Clemente who died in the offseason in a plane crash during a humanitarian mission.
Eight years later the same two teams would again meet again. The year was 1979 and it was my World World Series as a reporter. And it was like all Pirates postseason affairs — a wild one.
The Birds won an amazing 102 games in 1979 and boasted one the greatest pitching staffs of all time with Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor and Steve Stone. But this was the “We are family” Pirates led by Willie “Pops” Stargell, Dave Parker, Bill Matlock, Omar Moreno, John Candelaria and ace reliever Kent Tekulve.
The Pirates came back from a three games to one deficit to once again push things to a Game 7 on the road beating Baltimore by a score of 4-1. Meanwhile, Stargell at the age of 38 became the oldest player in baseball history to win both the regular season and World Series MVP Awards.
Tonight on the road in St. Louis the Bucs have the Cardinals right where they want them. Another win or go home game and the ghosts of Clemente, Stargell and the rest of the gang will be the “Angels in the outfield” for the Pirates tonight in Game 5.
With support like that how can you lose? In the words of the late great Bob Prince, “Beat em Bucs.”