First Pitch: NL Wild Card Game Shaping Up Like a Hollywood Movie For the Pirates

PITTSBURGH — There’s something about this Pirates’ season and the Wild Card matchup with Jake Arrieta that has a Hollywood feel. Every single aspect of it is almost like it was written for a classic sports movie, from the “Team beats everyone, but still can’t beat that one guy that they will square off against in the big battle at the end of the movie” aspect to the “Team starts slow, quickly becomes one of the best teams, suffers a setback after a key injury, slumps a bit, but revives themselves at the end” angle.

That would make Jake Arrieta the Clu Haywood/Jack Parkman/The Hawks/Team Iceland of this story. At least you hope it’s one of those guys who lost in the end, and not someone like Ken Griffey Jr. in Little Big League who robs the game winning home run to allow the bad guys to win.

Don’t believe me on the Hollywood ending? Well, let’s break down the season to see how it relates, using mostly the Major League and Mighty Ducks movie franchises, but also adding a few other movies along the way. Except Rookie of the Year. That would be inappropriate, considering the circumstances.

The Slow Start

There is always a moment in the movies at the start when things look hopeless. No good protagonist is built up by already being good. They need to overcome something from the start. The Indians were horrible for about half of the first Major League, yet somehow made the playoffs at the end, which means their division was definitely not as good as the NL Central. The Indians in the sequel were supposed to be good, but started off slow.


The latter is probably the most comparable to the Pirates this year. Their month of April wasn’t horrible. They went 12-10. They went 14-14 in May, which was only even due to a strong second half. They reached a low point on May 20th, when they were 18-22 and nine games out of first place.

Play Like a Champion, Lose to the Antagonist

At some point in the movie, the team starts figuring it out and beating everyone. Maybe it’s a player figuring it out, or a new player stepping in (like Tanaka in Major League II, who was the unspoken spark to that team). Maybe it’s the addition of a new superstar, like Adam Banks with the Ducks or Keenan in Mighty Ducks 2. But through all this, there’s one team they can’t beat, and that’s the main antagonist.

The Ducks lose to the Hawks. Team USA loses to Iceland. Clu Haywood and Jack Parkman keep beating the Indians. Lou Collins starts dating Billy Heywood’s mom in Little Big League. Basically all the same thing as the Pirates facing Jake Arrieta and losing over and over this year.

The Pirates went 80-42 after May 20th this year, and you could probably give Jung-ho Kang the Tanaka/Banks role in this, since he became a full-time starter around this time. They were 5.5 games better than any other team in the NL, and 4.0 games better than the next best team. But they couldn’t beat Arrieta.

They played him on May 17th and lost, right before the big revival. They played him three times during the hot stretch, and managed one run off him. That’s the “let’s stop this winning montage to watch Haywood crush a homer to beat the Indians again” moment. It’s brief, it’s disappointing that they can’t figure him out, it doesn’t stop the winning, but you know it’s going to lead to an epic showdown in the end.

Big Injury, Season Could Be Over

The next step is reaching the part of the movie where a big hero gets hurt. In the movies, this was Lou Brown having a heart attack. Or it was Billy Heywood getting busted by his mom for ordering an excessive amount of porn while on the road. Then there was Adam Banks getting cross checked into the goal post by the Hawks. Or Adam Banks getting slashed by Iceland. Speaking of which, how injury prone was Adam Banks? Granted, they were freak injuries where players went after him, but he was supposed to be a very talented player, and missed a ton of time in the process.

For the Pirates, this injury was obviously Jung-ho Kang, and to make it seem more like a movie, it came against the big antagonists — the Cubs. You can’t write a better story to this point. The team gets off to a slow start, then starts to pick it up mid-season but can’t beat the main bad guys. The guy who helps provide a spark for the team then gets injured by the main bad guys late in the year, putting the season in question. Kang is basically the baseball equivalent of Adam Banks in The Mighty Ducks.

At this point, there’s usually someone else who steps in and plays well, leading the team to that final battle. For the Pirates, this was Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison stepping up when Kang went down. And the injured guy usually returns, which is what Kang will do in a way when he is announced as part of the team during the pre-game tomorrow.

Final Battle vs the Antagonist

That’s where we arrive to the Wild Card game. This battle against Arrieta and the Cubs is the Indians against the Yankees and Haywood in Major League. It’s the Indians against Jack Parkman in Major League II. It’s the Ducks against the Hawks, or USA against Iceland.

Side Note: Gerrit Cole is pretty much Ed Harris in the first Major League movie, except maybe he’s a younger Harris who still has his stuff, and doesn’t have all sorts of creams and gels on his body. The comparison here is that he’s kind of under-stated in all of this. The focus is on Arrieta vs the Pirates, and Cole has a good chance to quietly put up a strong performance that, pre-game, is barely getting much attention.

Side Note 2: When thinking about the Major League movies, I kept thinking about the path Rick Vaughn kept taking. This is a guy with great stuff who can’t seem to stay consistent enough to be an ace, and ends up getting demoted to the bullpen at the end of the year. Is Charlie Morton the Rick Vaughn of the Pirates? You’ve got electric stuff. You’ve got previous success, but it’s hard to maintain. He’ll probably be pitching out of the bullpen in a key situation, and will decide to walk someone to get to Starlin Castro (3 homers, 1.259 OPS vs Morton), only to miraculously find his electric stuff and strike out his nemesis.

The thing is, this is real life. And sure, real life occasionally plays out like a movie. Just look at the Miracle on Ice. You have a similar story there — lose to the Soviet Union early in a game where Jack O’Callahan gets injured. Rebound and play well, going to the big battle at the end with that same Soviet Union team. And that’s when they stepped up to win, doing the unthinkable.

I don’t believe that beating Arrieta and the Cubs is “unthinkable”, despite all of the hype surrounding Arrieta, and the Cubs being favorites. I think the Pirates have the team that could win against Chicago and advance. It will be difficult, for sure. But if it happens, it will cap off what has been a Hollywood story to this point.

**Pirates Prospects Will Be Completely FREE on Wednesday For the Wild Card Game. We’ve got a free preview for non-subscribers tomorrow, and subscribers will get access to our full playoff coverage this season, along with all of our off-season coverage, which is detailed in that update.

**Forget Jake Arrieta — Gerrit Cole Could Be This Year’s Madison Bumgarner. Some interesting comments from Michael Morse and Travis Ishikawa on the similarities between Cole and Bumgarner.

**Jake Arrieta Doesn’t Think PNC Park’s Atmosphere Will Impact His Performance. Arrieta seems confident, but actions speak louder than words.

**Lombardozzi, Wall and Morris Declare Free Agency. A few minor moves as the first of the minor league free agents are revealed.

First Pitch