Wednesday, October 02, 2013

A Rock For The Forgotten In The City of Three Rivers

It was, in the end, just one game.

But it was one game after 162 other games. One game in a place where that team and that city hadn't been for two decades. It was a team that had every reason to be tight or nervous or relieved that they'd just gotten that far after twenty years of futility. And yet, they weren't.

It was a pitcher who'd been one of the very best, only to flame out, his arm crumbling. Once upon a time, Francisco Liriano had lined up behind Johann Santana to make the Twins nearly unbeatable. But then his arm went, and his control went, and his fastball went, and even this winter, he got hurt again while preparing to stagger into Pirates camp as a reclamation project. And yet, there he was on the mound in the most important game in PNC Park history, a 16-8 record and a 3.02 ERA under his belt and a slider as good as any he'd thrown in the Twin Cities ready to go. Seven innings and a multi-run lead later, he stalked off the mound and was hailed as a conqueror.

It was a catcher who'd been a poster child for unmet expectation and failed promise. Russell Martin had been a hero in Los Angeles, the catcher with amazing talent and a cool backstory and middle name. His  second year, he'd hit 19 homers and OPSed .842. He was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glover, and the sky was the limit. And of course, he never got close to that again, and eventually the Dodgers got tired of waiting for the promise and set him adrift. He came in to Pittsburgh looking for another place to restart a career, with mixed results and a .226 batting average. But in that one game, he went yard twice, maybe the most important home runs for this team since a guy named Bonds was hitting them. And his teammates never looked back.

It was a hometown kid who'd been a prospect, then a non-prospect, then an org guy who'd finally turned himself into a player. It was a stadium full of fans in buccaneer black at the urging of the team's lone offensive star. It was a retread who'd reinvented himself as a closer, not so far removed from being an Iron Pig, crawling unstoppably back from an injury that by rights should have ended his season.

It was a win, the first playoff win since Blind Melon tickets were hard to get and portable CD players were a thing.

And it was just one game. There's another series ahead of the Pirates now, and if they're lucky good another two after that. The run might be brutally short.

But the next game they play will be just one game, too. And they've already proven they can win one of those.
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