Chase d'arnaud drove in Xavier Paul with a sacrifice fly to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in 10 innings at PNC Park yesterday afternoon.
The win pulled the Pirates back into a three-way tie in the NL Central with the Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers.
I think yesterday's victory was the most-important of the season. No, not because of the standings--the Pirates would have only been two-games back with with 63 games to go--but because of the young team's psyche.
St. Louis took the first two games of the series, and they did so rather convincingly(especially Saturday night's 9-1 thrashing), and a sweep could have easily sent Pittsburgh into a tail-spin that not only hurt their chances at the division but jeopardized their quest to finish at or above .500 for the first time since 1992.
Pittsburgh was on a modest three-game losing-streak, and a loss yesterday would have been four in a row, and things could have really gotten ugly. Starting tonight, the Pirates begin a seven-game road swing, playing four in Atlanta and three this weekend against the Phillies
Now if the Pirates can hold-serve on the road this week and win maybe three or four games, they'll set themselves up to make another run next week with the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres coming to PNC Park for a seven-game homestand.
I'm obviously excited about the NL Central race, but to be honest, I'm more concerned with the Pirates finishing at or above .500. And not because 19-consecutive losing-seasons would be any more gut-wrenching than 18 years, but this season has turned-into such a feel-good story, it would be a shame to see the team finish with another losing record. Yes, no matter how 2011 ends (save for a collapse of epic proportions), the campaign has already been a success with the renewed fan-excitement and passion displayed in the stands at PNC Park, but a season that ends at .500 or better would be a nice feather in the cap of the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fan base. Right now, my magic number for the Pirates is 29 games. If they can go 29-34 down-the-stretch, the Buccos will end their 18 years of misery, and we won't have to hear about the record steak of losing seasons ever again.
I think we'll have a really good idea of how the Pirates' season will end come September. From now through the end of August, the Pirates have the up-coming series with the Braves and Phillies I mentioned earlier, as well as three games in San Francisco, six with Milwaukee, seven more against St. Louis, and a three-game series vs. the Reds.
That's a pretty brutal-stretch of baseball.
If the Pirates can get to September at or above .500 and within striking-distance of first place, we will be in for the most-exciting month of baseball Pirates fans have witnessed since the early-90's. The Pirates really could do some damage as the schedule looks at least a little easier. From August 29th on, Pittsburgh will play six-games against the Houston Astros, three-more against the Cubs, three against the Marlins and four in Los Angeles.
If the Pirates take care of business against those teams, they could really set themselves up for an exciting finish.
The Cardinals come to PNC Park one last time for a three-game series in mid-September. After the four games against the Dodgers, the Pirates finish out the year with three against the Diamondbacks, who are having a great year and in contention for the NL West, three at PNC Park against the Reds for their final home-series of the season, and Pittsburgh's final three games will be in Milwaukee against those hated-Brewers.
I don't know if the Pirates have what it takes to go all the way in the NL Central, but if they can just make it to September in one-piece, I believe at least a winning-season could become a reality.