COMMENTARY | It finally happened, the long nightmare ended by the rising sun.
Your Pittsburgh Pirates, for the first time in 20 years, will finish with a winning record. If you told someone in 1992 that it wouldn't be until Sept. 9, 2013, he or she might have jumped into the Allegheny River and renounced his or her fandom forever. Losers no more, die-hard fans likely woke up this morning with a special, unexplainable feeling that can only come along with shedding the stink and misery of such a prolonged disaster. The sun has risen, and the Pirate ship is sailing to the postseason.
But perhaps the most telling aspect of clinching the winning season was the manner in which it was accomplished. Gerrit Cole was only 2 years old when Sid Bream broke Pirates fans hearts on Oct. 14, 1992. The 23-year-old future ace has obviously come a long way since then, even if the franchise that employs him hasn't.
He took the mound Monday and completely dominated a Texas Rangers team full of talented hitters, a team struggling to make the playoffs and desperate for every win. His stat line included three hits given up in 93 pitches during seven innings of stellar, scoreless work, including nine strikeouts. In what was billed as perhaps the most important start of his young career, Cole delivered with what was undeniably the best start of his young career.
Cole has disappointed some fans this year with mediocre outings and a pitch repertoire that looked empty besides his fastball. That all changed Sept. 9 in Texas, where Cole had a filthy curve ball dropping off the table and making opposing batters look foolish. How appropriate that the rookie hailed as the savior of the franchise played stopper to a four-game losing streak at a time when St. Louis and Cincinnati kept gaining ground.
His clutch performance cannot be overstated, if only for the fact that he delivered when no one else would. The role of stopper has changed all year. First, it was A.J. Burnett, followed quickly by young Jeff Locke. It changed to Francisco Liriano sometime around the middle of the season, and then went to Charlie Morton for five starts. That moniker belongs to Cole now, if only for the reason that everyone else in the rotation is pitching poorly during the worst time of the year to do so. Regardless, several weeks still remain until these Buccos hit the playoffs, time enough for the rotation to shake out the cobwebs.
It's not time yet to go crazy, Pittsburgh. Even after the chains of 20 years are broken and shed, the goal, as the front office said for so many years, isn't to merely be a mediocre team. The goal is to be the best. Thankfully, the players seem to be embracing that motto more so than fans. It was only shortly after the Pirates ended the streak, sometime in the late hours of Sept. 9, that closer Mark Melancon tweeted out a message to all Pirates fans, a message that everyone would be wise to heed.
"It's great to be a part of the first winning season in 20 years for the @Pirates. Our goals are much bigger than .500+ though. #82."
Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen took an even blunter stance on a milestone that means so much to fans.
"On to the next one..."Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
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- Gerrit Cole