After not having much to be intense about over the past 20 years, the Pirates are sure making up for lost time in 2013.
After a thrilling, 5-3, victory over the Cardinals at PNC Park in Game 3 of the NLDS on Sunday, Pittsburgh can clinch a trip to the NLCS with a Game 4 win at PNC on Monday afternoon, and it's going to be intense and emotional.
How do I know this? Because that's how the entire season has been for me since about late June. On a Sunday afternoon in Anaheim, when the Pirates came back from three runs down in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game and then won it in the 10th inning to complete a sweep of the Angels, I became emotionally invested, and my emotions continued to be heightened the rest of the summer.
It's funny that I was so intense all summer, because, really, with regards to at least a wild card berth, Pittsburgh didn't have a ton to worry about once a 7.5 game lead was established, following that previously mentioned exciting win in California.
But when all you're used to is NFL intensity, it gets kind of hard to not think of every baseball game as do or die. I remember pacing the floors of my apartment during the Pirates 16 inning loss to Arizona, and that was all the way back in August--a loss that shaved the Pirates wild card lead to 7.5 games with 39 to go.
Two weeks ago, when the Pirates blew that 5-2 lead against Cincinnati in the top of the ninth inning, it felt like the end of the world. I seriously woke up the next morning feeling like I did after that infamous Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.
Of course, the Pirates would eventually be OK in the "making the playoffs" department, and actually clinched their first postseason berth with a win at Wrigley Field on September 23, and it did relax me a little.
Instead of worrying about if and when Pittsburgh would clinch a postseason berth, I used that week as a chance to celebrate, even though the Pirates still had a relatively realistic shot at winning the NL Central. Of course, the Cardinals still had a two game lead with six to play, and I knew the chances of catching St. Louis were pretty slim.
Therefore, I slowly began to anticipate the probable Wild Card play-in match-up against the Reds to be played on the Tuesday after the regular season finale. The only question would be where the game would be played. Both the Pirates and Cincinnati clinched a wild card berth on the same day, and when the two teams met for the final regular season series of the year at Great American Ballpark, the Pirates were a game ahead, and if they took two of three, they would host the game. If the reverse happened, the Reds would host the game.
Truthfully, I was only mildly concerned about where the game would be played. I mean, it's baseball, and home-field advantage (at least for one game) probably isn't that important. However, I still desired a game at PNC Park, simply because I knew just how awesome of an atmosphere it would be.
Thankfully, Pittsburgh actually swept the Reds to clinch home-field, and much like I had anticipated, the fans were JACKED for the game. Thanks to Twitter suggestions from several Pirates players, there was a black-out, as the fans donned black shirts for the game, which made PNC Park look at awful lot like the Oakland Coliseum during an old Raiders game from the 70s--kind of fitting, I suppose, cause, you know, Pirates/Raiders.
Anyway, back to the dreading part for Yours truly. I'm not going to lie. Despite the sweep in Cincinnati, I kind of felt like the Reds were just lying in wait for Pittsburgh and wanted to show the Pirates what postseason baseball was all about.
I thought about it, and I thought about it, and I thought about it for days--this kind of thing is normally reserved for playoff football.
When the moment finally arrived last Tuesday evening, at 8:07, I was very nervous. In fact, I didn't want to watch or listen to the game. I simply wanted it to be over with.
I had to pick my mom up from church, right after work, and the route took me right past PNC Park during the "win or go home" battle. I was simply amazed at all the boats that were parked in the river, just outside the park, as well as, all the people sitting and watching the events unfold as they stood along the shore, across the river--it was quite the sight to behold.
Still, though, I couldn't turn the radio on, and I didn't want anyone to give me any updates (after all that build up, the last thing I wanted to hear was something like "Reds 4, Pirates 0, top of the third").
After I dropped my mom off at her house, I drove to my place. As I walked by the other apartments to get to mine, I listened for cheers from my neighbors, and I heard nothing.
About an hour after arriving home, I finally started to check social media, and that's when I realized things might be going fairly well. In addition to that, I turned my cell phone on (had to shut it off. I didn't want any updates from anyone, via text), and that's when I saw a text from my uncle, "Where the hell are you?" (I was supposed to watch it over his house, but I was just too damn scared), and my brother "Are you nervous?"
I turned my phone off again, and I paced back and forth until maybe 11:30 or so, and that's when I finally knew the Pirates had won. It was such a great night, a night that I didn't get to experience live, but I sure felt like I played.
What felt so unnatural to me was the fact that the Pirates had to be in St. Louis to play Game 1 of the NLDS less than 48 hours later. I wanted like a week to celebrate such a great night--but this isn't the NFL playoffs we're talking about.
Speaking of the NLDS, you know what I discovered? It was quite hard to get my emotions back up for Game 1. I don't know if it was the fact that I had a volleyball match, or the fact that it wasn't "win or go home," but I just didn't have it. Don't get me wrong, I was pretty disappointed when I discovered that Pittsburgh was down, 7-0, fairly fast, but I guess I was just flat--much like the players, I suppose.
It's been an incredible ride, and after 21 years, a learning experience.
Baseball playoffs are intense, but even the most intense fan can't keep up the intensity every day.
But then there was Game 3 and sweating in the form of bullets--more on that in another post.
Let's Go Bucs!