The Pirates’ playoff run seems to be all Pittsburghers are talking about. And when they talk with someone who has been down to PNC Park for either of the first two postseason games, the first question is usually the same:
Is it really as loud as everyone is saying it is?
Ask the national writers who have attended multiple World Series, they’ll tell you it was louder than any baseball game they have covered before. Ask Neal Huntington, he’ll tell you the atmosphere at the Wild Card was unlike any he had experienced. Ask the vendors in the stands, they’ll tell you there were times you could not hear the PA announcements and walk-up music over the fans’ yelling.
“The atmosphere, the energy has been outstanding,” said Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez. “And that’s what you dream of.”
The noisy block party on Federal Street turned to raucous applause throughout pre-game introductions, turned to cheers for every Francisco Liriano strike, turned to unmistakable chants of “Keeell-yyyy, Keeell-yyy” for the Cardinals’ pitcher… and that was all before the first inning was over.
In fact, all that volume creates a unique challenge for the players in what is usually a much more quiet ballpark.
“If you get too adrenaline-pumped, it’s like being a bull in a china shop,” said Pirates closer Jason Grilli. “We’re not playing football out there. We’ve got to still make pitches, slow the game down. If it takes a hold of you, it could be too much.”
Perhaps the shouting from the stands, at perhaps its loudest in the 1st inning, helped the Bucs to an early lead in Game 2. Amid the chants of his last name, Joe Kelly issued a two-out walk to Andrew McCutchen. He then saw a Justin Morneau comebacker bounce off his glove and saw his shortstop Pete Kozma throw the ball away to put two runners in scoring position. Marlon Byrd lined a two-run single, and PNC Park was ignited.
For his part, St. Louis’ Game 4 starter Michael Wacha thinks he can drown out the racket.
“Just try and stay as focused as you can and execute the pitch that’s called,” Wacha said in St. Louis “I think that usually just takes care of the crowd if you can block that kind of stuff out.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny added that he doesn’t think his team is necessarily at a disadvantage in this environment.
“That’s something I know the Pirates feed off of. But so do our guys,” Matheny said. “This isn’t the first time the majority of them have been in a loud atmosphere against. It’s something they talk a lot about. Some of their best postseason memories are in situations like this.”
The Pirates can make a new memory Monday afternoon: winning the franchise’s first postseason series since 1979. They see the fans pouring into the ballpark dressed in black, bringing Pittsburgh’s support of its baseball team to pack PNC with more fans than it has ever seen before.
“We mirror the people here,” Grilli said. “When you see how passionate they are, how hardworking they are, it’s easy to fit into that and want to be a part of that.
“It’s inspiring because when you get crowds like we’re getting, it’s easy to play for these people, because they give us a lot of energy.”