The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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September 5, 2013

Pirates press on after ending skid

MILWAUKEE — Toast them with a bottle of Iron City. Wear that 1970s-era Pittsburgh painter’s cap with pride. Celebrate the end of “The Streak.”

Just don’t expect the Pirates to join in the fun. There’s an NL Central title to win.

The Pirates ended their 20-year run of losing baseball Tuesday night, reaching the 81-win mark with a 4-3 victory at Miller Park.

“I’ve won 81 games before, and this team is going to win more than 81 games. A lot more,” newly acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd said before Wednesday night’s game at Milwaukee.

“It’s about changing the culture, and they’ve done that the past two years,” he said. “This was inevitable that this team was going to get to this point.”

Easy for him to say. He recently joined the club, obtained from the Mets in a deal to bolster the lineup for the playoff push.

Second baseman Neil Walker, on the other hand, is a little more passionate. He grew up in Pittsburgh and still lives in the Steel City.

Walker was bombarded with messages on his Twitter account Tuesday night.

“To be part of this group that has righted the ship, per se, in the win column is pretty significant. I don’t think anybody is going to admit that too much in here just because baseball players are so superstitious,” Walker said.

“But the fact that I’ve lived and breathed Pirates baseball since I can remember, being a baseball fan since I was 5 or 6 years old, it holds a little more significance to me.”

Their latest win gave the Pirates a two-game division lead over St. Louis, and Cincinnati is 3 1⁄2 back. Pittsburgh is aiming to finish first and avoid a best-of-one matchup between wild cards.

No matter what, at least the Pirates don’t have to answer any more questions about the drought.

In western Pennsylvania, “The Streak” made one segment of fans miserable. Others viewed the franchise like lovable losers, the “Bad News Bears” of sorts of the majors.

The Pirates went 20 years, 11 months and 26 days since they last had 81 wins in a season.

More perspective on the two-decade run of misery since 1992:

–The Pirates were 1,374-1,796 during the streak for a .437 winning percentage.

–The Penguins and Steelers had seven losing seasons combined during that period.

–The franchise went through three ownership groups and seven managers, including current skipper Clint Hurdle.

Hurdle said he was humbled by all the messages that he had received.

“And they’re not from my buddies. They’re actually from people that we’ve come to know in the North Hills (suburbs) and the city of Pittsburgh that have reached out,” he said. “The emails and texts are quite meaningful.”

After the win, Hurdle said he was especially happy for the family of Roberto Clemente, the late Hall of Famer who wore No. 21.

“They told me earlier in the season that we can’t have 21 losing seasons, that we’ve got to find a way to not have Roberto’s number tied to that,” Hurdle said. “I told them we’d find a way to take care of that. It’s been taken care of.”

The Pirates seemed loose before Wednesday’s game, but there were no cases of champagne waiting on ice. No trophy in another room waiting to be presented in a pregame ceremony.

Outfielder Travis Snider, whose pinch-hit homer in the ninth led to Tuesday’s win, talked fantasy football. Others watched the ever-present baseball highlights on the big-screen TVs.

Outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates’ MVP candidate, put it best. He posted a simple message on his Twitter account shortly after the Pirates got win No. 81.

“Keep going ...”

 

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