NLDS Game 5: Cardinals 6 Pirates 1 (and so much more)

What I want to tell you is this: 

One of the most venerable catch-phrases in baseball history is "Wait 'til next year." It's what the Dodgers used to say in the late '40s and early '50s before they broke through against the Yankees in 1955. It's what the Cubs fans tell themselves every year because it's what they have to tell themselves. It's also a phrase that's always been meaningless to me. For as long as I can remember as a Pirate fan, "wait 'til next year" has been an empty colloquialism to mean, "Maybe someday the Pirates won't suck." For most of my life, the Pirates have never actually been good enough to warrant waiting until next year; you just do it because it's a thing that you've decided that you're going to do, not because you expect something better. In the early hours of October 10th, 2013, that phrase finally means to Pirate fans what it's supposed to mean: This year didn't end the way that you wanted it to, but maybe next year will

That's what I want to say. That's the stiff upper lip that I feel like I'm supposed to put forward after this game. What I really think is this: 

That sucked a lot. 

A few years ago, I made myself watch the Sid Bream/Francisco Cabrera game. I did it because I hadn't ever seen it from beginning to end, because I thought it'd make an interesting piece to write for the blog, and because some part deep inside of me thought that maybe if I faced that game down, that maybe it'd enforce some kind of fundamental change on the universe to help push the Pirates in the right direction. Instead, what I  found was that I actually remembered some of the early-game sequences that helped the Pirates build their lead, and that as a result of that,  watching them blow it brought back all of the same feelings that I had waking up in October of 1992 to learn that the Pirates wouldn't be going to the World Series. Those same sorts of feelings bubbled up again watching this game: that as different and as fun and as unexpected this year has been, watching your favorite baseball team go down without much of a fight is a helpless and hopeless kind of feeling that you don't ever really forget, even after 21 years. 

When I wrote my season preview, I opened it up with this wonderful quote from Ursula LeGuin's short story A Week in the Country that literally made me sit up in the bus and mark the page I was on in my book when I first read it. That probably has more to do with me and the places that you find yourself when you've been in grad school for a long time and it's almost-but-not-quite-yet time to move on, but in March I thought it fit the Pirates' upcoming season perfectly, and weirdly enough, I think it fits almost as well just now: 

She looked at him, seeing him again, and the future be damned, since all possible futures ever envisaged are — rusty sinks, two-week vacations and bombs or collective fraternity or harps and houris– endlessly, sordidly dreary, all delight being in the present and its past, all truth, too, and all fidelity in the word, the flesh, the present moment: for the future, however you look at it, contains only one sure thing and that is death. But the moment is unpredictable. There is simply no telling what will happen.

In March, I read that and it said to me that it was time for the Pirates to stop mucking about with rebuilding plans and start to try to do something. That's exactly what happened. Now, in October, I read it and all I can think is that 94-win teams that can push baseball's best regular season team into the eighth inning of Game 5 in the NLDS and play them to a virtual standstill after 24 games don't grow on trees. I know that things are supposed to keep getting better from here from the Pirates, and I think that they probably will. I'm going to spend most of this fall and this winter thinking about how they can do exactly that. But for tonight, the future is all rusty sinks. Tomorrow and next week and next year, the 2013 Pirates will be a team that exceeded expectations and revitalized baseball in Pittsburgh and exorcised demons. Tonight, they're a really good baseball team that fell a little short.

This baseball team did so very much this year that it feels greedy to say that I wanted even a little bit more from them, but it'd be a lie to say anything else. For now, I'll close with this: the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates made me remember that being a baseball fan can be a truly joyful experience that doesn't have to come with qualifications or contingencies. It was a pleasure in a way that I felt like sometimes I could barely process. Now that it's all over, I feel like the best thing that I can say about the 2013 season is this: I'm already ready for next April. 

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.