PITTSBURGH — We can act like the Pirates exist in a sports-entertainment vacuum, but the reality is that there is only so much capital — mental and financial — to go around.
Cutting to the chase, there’s only a finite amount of time the early-stage Pirates have to attract attention before a goodly amount of people turn their attention to the Penguins and the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.
Not that the players particularly care, but so far, so good, even after a snow-blown 7-3 loss to the Twins at PNC Park on Wednesday spoiled the Pirates’ pursuit of a perfect season.
(Yeah, I get to be cheeky if they are.)
Well, sorry world. We gave it a good try as the last team standing but you’ll have to wait at least one more year for the first 162-0 season. #LetsGoBucs
— Steven Brault (@SquidBrault) April 5, 2018
Not to ignore this result, but when a game pivots on a sixth-inning pop fly that got lost in those pesky swirling flakes, let’s just say it’s easier to minimize it.
“No one saw it,” said Iván Nova, whose pitching line went from good to a subpar five runs allowed in 5 1/3 innings after Eddie Rosario’s ‘groundout’ moved Brian Dozier to third and opened up the frame for Minnesota.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Josh Harrison marveled. “That’s when the momentum shifted.”
Beyond that weather-induced fluke, there was enough in this white-dusted evening to validate whatever preconceived view you have of the 2018 Pirates.
Think their fundamentals stink? Then nod your head at Harrison’s poor relay throw on Logan Morrison’s go-ahead double in the sixth, or Gregory Polanco’s too-wide turn just before he was thrown out at home in the fifth.
“We’ll look at it,” Hurdle said of his staff’s daily pregame video review.
Think the lineup has promise? Then grunt in approval at chasing another opposing starter before he could get rolling. New Twins righty Jake Odorizzi could only plow through 4 1/3 before getting the hook.
“I think it’s been a good sign for us,” Harrison said after a 2-for-5 night. “Last couple games, we’ve made the starting pitcher work and got into the bullpen. I think it just shows the depth of our lineup one through nine. Guys are going up there looking for something to hit.”
Think middle relief will let them down? Then witness Dovydas Neverauskas failing to put out Nova’s fire and relative unknown Josh Smoker getting a medium-leverage assignment after an off day. Say, why not stick with Nova after just 82 pitches, anyway?
“For me, it was a weird inning and I didn’t see it getting any less weird,” Hurdle said. “That’s the way I went with it. It didn’t work out for us.”
Think there’s enough young promise to lead the way? Then smile at Tyler Glasnow’s three solid innings with five strikeouts, or Josh Bell’s titanic first-inning homer halfway up the batter’s eye beyond center field.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting for that since the start of spring,” Bell said of his first dinger in five games. “Finally clipped it the right way and got the ball flight I wanted.”
Regardless of where you stand on the Pirates’ potential, we can probably all agree that a 4-1 start is exactly what this group needs, both to give themselves a baseline of confidence after a winter of upheaval and to give their faithful a reason to believe.
“We even had something brewing in the ninth, down four,” Harrison told me. “That shows you there’s no quit in here, even in those conditions. It’s easy in those conditions to say, ‘Eh, we’ll come back tomorrow.'”
Ah, yes, the conditions.
After the Pirates hosted the smallest opening-day gathering in the history of PNC Park on Monday, maybe a quarter of the 20,690 who bought tickets showed up to dwell in the world’s largest snow globe for a few hours. As if Major League Baseball wasn’t already currently a difficult sell around these parts, winter has decided to overstay its welcome.
But even if it’s 70 degrees and sunny all spring, it’ll take more than a nice week to serve notice to the uninterested masses that this might be a baseball team worth following. It should take more than a week for a franchise that’s officially lost whatever benefit of the doubt it earned in the first half of this decade.
“I think overall, it was a good first week,” Harrison said. “We had all different kinds of wins and contributions from everybody.”
The rebuilding Reds are coming to town next, with a four-game series starting Thursday night. The Pirates didn’t exactly construct the prettiest four-win week in the history of baseball, although it’s not like the league office is going to put an asterisk next to these.
The victories are in the bank. They’re really in first place after seven days’ worth of season, three of which were spent inactive.
“Just grinding through some tough days,” Bell said. “Hopefully we continue to do the same this weekend.”
It would be nice, for their sakes. By the time the Pirates have the Pittsburgh stage truly to themselves, they’ll have to have shown something significant to capture a beleaguered baseball town’s fancy.