It started somewhere down the first-base line. As with most chants, it was quiet at first, but picked up steam quickly.
Leave it to a town that hasn’t had postseason baseball in two decades to pull a hockey tactic.
Much like Penguins fans getting into the head of an opposing goalie, the fans at PNC Park had an enormous impact on the Pirates’ 6-2 victory in the National League wild-card playoff game on Tuesday night, rattling Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto off the mound.
Ever wonder what it’s like to have a crowd of 40,487 mockingly chanting your name in sing-song fashion? It certainly didn’t look pleasant for Cueto.
He dropped the ball – literally – before he could throw his next pitch. If he looked flustered then, he was positively rattled after he released that next pitch, as Russell Martin deposited it into the left-field stands.
Cueto had already given up a home run to Marlon Byrd and got a 390-foot out on a ball that Pedro Alvarez had crushed. With each hard-hit ball, the crowd got louder and louder.
Welcome back to the postseason, Pittsburgh.
All those who wondered if it could ever be a baseball town again after so many years of small crowds and horrible teams had their answer. And a loud one.
“Unbelievable!” Byrd said when asked about the crowd support. “Chanting Cueto's name. From pitch 1 to the last pitch of the game they were in it. They were loud! Loved it.”
There were boats in the Allegheny River and people hanging out on the Clemente Bridge outside of the stadium – and a Jolly Roger hanging off of it. It was an atmosphere that rivaled any postseason game featuring the Steelers or Penguins.
Pirates fans, who have waited 21 years since their last playoff game, made up for lost time on Tuesday night.
Aside from a few fans reaching over the railing, they were outstanding, from beginning to end. Nearly an hour before the first pitch, a “Let’s go Bucs!” chant reverberated around the stadium.
They completely threw Cueto, who was 8-2 with a 1.90 ERA in 13 career starts at PNC Park, off his game.
They stood and applauded every time Francisco Liriano got two strikes on a Reds batter and screamed their approval at every Pirates hit. The crowd, which was a record for the
11-year-old stadium, sang along to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” long after the music had stopped before Clint Barmes’ fifth-inning at-bat.
They chanted the name of virtually every reliever that Reds manager Dusty Baker trotted out to the mound – and there were many, and they serenaded Liriano with a chant of his own when it was clear his night was done.
“There's no doubt there was a 10th man tonight,” said second baseman Neil Walker, who grew up in Pittsburgh and watched the Pirates struggle for years. “Home-field advantage, you just saw how important it was. The fans were in it from pitch 1 to the last out.”
What an incredible night for Pittsburgh. But, thanks to the team’s performance, they’ll get to do it again in the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Pirates fans might just be able to get used to this.
Eric Knopsnyder is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/eric_knopsnyder.