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Pittsburgh Pirates: Win No. 81 puts the past in its place


Aug 31, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin (55) is greeted at home plate by first baseman Garrett Jones (middle) and right fielder Marlon Byrd (2) after Martin hit a three run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals during the third inning at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 7-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

By now you know the particulars. Travis Snider, bothered all year by a nagging toe injury, put his foot down on top of 20 straight losing seasons Tuesday night, launching a ninth-inning pinch-hit home run to give the Pittsburgh Pirates a 4-3 win in Milwaukee.

The Streak, which was the longest of its kind in the history of North American pro sports, is over. Even if the Pirates need another win to lock up a winning season, I find myself thinking – unexpectedly – that getting to No. 81 probably means more for long-time fans than No. 82 will.

Above all, the Streak was about losing. For the first time since 1992, the Bucs can’t be branded as subpar. This year’s team is far from that; with a record 24 games above the once-elusive .500 mark and a two-game lead in the National League Central, the 2013 Pirates have a better-than-average chance of guaranteeing (at least) the first playoff game at 13-year-old PNC Park.

But we’ll have the better part of a month to discuss the pennant race and its implications. It’s quite appropriate that Pirates fans get a two-tiered celebration before things get really intense. The team’s 81st win, secured in what has often been a difficult place for Pittsburgh to earn victories, officially puts two decades of mostly bad baseball where it belongs – safely behind us.

No more do we have to dwell on the Pirates’ sometimes-prohibitive mid-market status, the bad decisions of previous ownership and management, or the docket of replacement-level players who donned the black and gold (and sometimes red) in the lost years at Three Rivers Stadium and the new joint on the North Shore.

As for me, I choose to reflect on the athletes who deserved better. I look back on Jason Kendall, Brian Giles, Jack Wilson, Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez. Some of them did eventually experience the thrill of winning baseball, but it wasn’t their fault the Pirates couldn’t climb the mountain while they were in Pittsburgh.

I got off easy. I started following the Pirates on a daily basis in 1998, so I didn’t experience the pain of a once-great team falling into a funk. All I’ve know is mediocrity or worse, so I really don’t know what I’ve been missing. There are many like me, stumbling into the sunlight for the first time.

But no matter how long you’ve been aboard the Bucco ship, soak it in. Look back at what you’ve been through to get to this point, because it makes the present that much sweeter. In fact, traversing 20 years of darkness makes the Pirates immensely interesting. If you think the wave of national publicity is stunning now, just wait a couple more weeks. The Bucs are baseball’s darlings, a small but deserved bit of payback for what’s come before.

Above all, get the reminiscing out of your system before win No. 82, which could arrive as soon as Wednesday night at Miller Park. After a winning season is clinched, it’s all about gunning for the championship.