The first MLB game I ever covered live was on June 24th, 2011. I was going up to cover the debut of Chase d’Arnaud, back when he was one of the top prospects in the system. There was also the chance to cover a Pirates team that looked like they might be contenders, flirting around .500 in a weak division. I remember the game well, not because of d’Arnaud’s debut, but because it was against the Red Sox, and had the best atmosphere I had ever seen in PNC Park. That atmosphere would be replaced by the Wild Card game last year, but it still is memorable.
The most notable thing came in the eighth inning. Jose Veras came in with the Pirates ahead 3-1, six outs away from beating the Red Sox and going one game over .500. This was back in the day when going over .500 after Memorial Day caused everyone’s hopes to go up. Veras gave up two singles to start the inning, followed by a sacrifice bunt to move the tying runs into scoring position. He then came up big in what I thought at the time was a moment that you only saw out of contenders. Veras struck out Marco Scutaro, then got David Ortiz to ground out to shortstop, ending the inning and escaping the jam. The roar of the crowd was huge. The energy was electric.
A little over three years later, the Red Sox return to PNC Park. Things have changed since that last meeting when the Pirates took two of three against Boston. The Red Sox went on to struggle in 2012, win the World Series in 2013, then go back to struggling in 2014. The Pirates meanwhile continued their ascent, although in a “why won’t this old car start?” kind of way. After two failed revs of the engine in 2011 and 2012, they broke their losing streak and made it to the post-season.
Three years ago, the atmosphere in PNC Park was electric, especially due to the significance of going over .500 in June. This week the Pirates should take at least two games against the Red Sox, which would give them win number 81. They might even seal their second winning season in a row against Boston. And the upcoming accomplishment is something I didn’t even think about until tonight. My, how quickly things change.
Expanding on that thought, I didn’t even realize that last Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of win number 82. It was a huge moment at the time, and now it seems like so long ago that 82 wins mattered. We’re now in a situation where 82 wins feels like a failed season. In fact, the second Wild Card spot might seem disappointing to some at this point. That’s not unusual. It’s just how it’s actually like to follow a contender and a good team.
The upcoming series against the Red Sox had me reflecting on that last series between the two teams, and how much has changed during that time. I have to say, I prefer the current situation to the 2011 situation. In terms of which line of thinking is more preferred, I’d take “Will they get the Wild Card or win the division?” any day over “Playoffs seem unreasonable to think about, so let’s focus on whether they can stay above .500.”
Links and Notes