I still remember the night of October 14, 1992. I was volunteering for my Alma mater, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, at a college fair at Newbury Park High School. When I left to go the event, the Pirates has 1-0 lead over the Braves in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
Unlike today, where the internet and smartphones make it easy to check scores, I had no way of knowing what was going while I worked the event. As it turned out, the Pirates had extended their lead to 2-0 and were heading to the bottom of the ninth with a two run lead when I returned to my car for the short drive home.
I listened on the radio as the Braves inched closer. I remember pitcher Doug Drabek leaving in favor of closer Stan Belinda, who would be tasked with preserving the win with the bases loaded and nobody out. He got the first out on a sacrifice fly, walked the bases loaded, and then got a pop out to the infield for the second.
Bear in mind that this was the third consecutive year the Pirates made the NLCS, having lost to the Reds in 1990 in six games and to the Braves in 1991 in seven. The Pirates had a roster loaded with star players that included Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, Jay Bell, Jose Lind, Mike Lavalliere, Doug Drabek, Randy Tomlin, Stan Belinda, Bob Walk (current Pirates color man), and Tim Wakefield, yes the knuckleballer Tim Wakefield who pitched with the Red Sox for what felt like forever. In Game 6, he pitched a complete game which the Pirates won easily, 13-4.
The Pirates had not been to the World Series since 1979 and were one out from returning when Francisco Cabrera stepped to the plate. I had just pulled my car into the driveway and didn’t want to miss anything by heading into the house, so I stayed in the car and listened on the radio.
After the season, the Pirates organization dismantled the team. I figured it would lead to a few years of rebuilding, but little did I know that it would last for the next 20 years. It was so bad, that seasons were usually over before the All-Star break or earlier, pretty much ending any hope of a winning season, let alone the playoffs. Worst of all, there never seemed to be any hope on the horizon due to the consistently questionable roster moves the Pirates made every year under the guise of saving money. They consistently signed marginal free agents to lucrative contracts, dealt away their best players to contenders at the trade deadline, and never seemed to have any talent moving through the farm system.
It was even more frustrating over the last 20 years to watch other small market teams have their day in the sun, whether it was Milwaukee, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, or Minnesota. It was hard to believe that the Pirates couldn’t field a competitive team at some point over the course of two decades when so many other teams had been able to do it, even if it was for just one or two seasons.
Therefore, it’s with great relief that the Pirates have finally put an end to the losing. It’s made watching the scores and standings more interesting this summer with the only remaining question being how far the Pirates will go. Here’s hoping they make it all the way back to the World Series. It would be a great way to reward the city of Pittsburgh and its fans, and to help us all put the past 20 years behind us.