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Kovacevic: Why not just enjoy these Pirates?

| Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, 12:11 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Fans watch the Pirates' game against the Dodgers behind manager Clint Hurdle on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012 at PNC Park. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Fans wait out a rain delay in the left field bleachers before the Pirates' game against the Dodgers Tuesday August 14, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

I've been off the hemisphere for a bit, so correct me if I'm wrong, but the Pirates' 11-0 annihilation Tuesday at the Dodgers' hands does mean we're at the cusp of apocalypse, right?

The end of days?

Where the skies roar, the ground rifts and a raging Phoenix rises in the form of Jerry Meals making a safe call?

Sure is how it sounds around here. Whether on the air, online, on South Side barstools or amid the 22,729 who booed through much of the mess Tuesday, the negativity is overwhelming.

Fans aren't frustrated. They're fatalistic.

They aren't disappointed. They're devastated.

Why?

By the time I left for the Olympics in late July, some pieces of the Pirates' downward trend had begun — starters slipping, bullpen imploding, even this odd Andrew McCutchen slump — but this city was still having a blast with its baseball team. Starling Marte had just pulled a Mario on his first pitch, first game. Old ladies were doing the Zoltan, often backward, which was even cuter. Kids were splicing tribute clips on YouTube.

Even in the wicked world of the Web, there was a happy new hashtag on Twitter every hour.

Now, it's this ...

#PiratesPanic

#CollapseHasBegun

#ReturnOfMeals

Wow.

Are fans of this team, this of all franchises, really going to be crushed by falling short of first place?

Or the playoffs?

Or the World Series?

I don't want to hear about the team falling off. That alone doesn't explain the reaction. The Pirates' record since the torch was lit in London is 8-10. That's not ideal for a pennant race, but it's no cataclysm. Of the past four opponents, the Reds were on a 17-3 roll before facing the Pirates, the Diamondbacks 11-4, the Padres 5-1, the Dodgers 6-3. The Pirates weren't those teams' only victim.

Save the stuff about choking, too. That inspired group that overcame the Padres' five-run lead Sunday is the same one the city's been supporting all year.

From what I gathered in the clubhouse Tuesday, that hasn't changed in the slightest.

"We're the same team, same mindset, same focus, everything," Neil Walker said. "And really, if you look where we are, it's not too bad."

No, it isn't.

If you're one of those who gets hung up on the nature of recent defeats as opposed to how much each is counted in the standings — invariably just once — then you might not have noticed that, even though the Pirates are now an ominous six games behind the Reds for first in the Central Division, they still hold the lead for the final National League wild-card spot.

Read that again. It's worth it.

The Pirates are in playoff position on the 15th of August.

They're also one modest winning streak, with a couple games left here against the team right behind them, from solidifying that status.

And speaking of streaks, at 12 games over .500, they're an absolute lock to break The Streak and pass the 19-year barrier of 82 wins.

How about enjoying it a little?

The current trend is bad, no question. And there are plenty of points for legitimate criticism: The underperforming players, especially McCutchen, need to snap out of it. Clint Hurdle needs to stop playing Rod Barajas over Michael McKenry, a decision that looks more nonsensical every day. Neal Huntington needs to address a blatantly minor-league bench.

And yeah, I'll repeat: Huntington should have been more ambitious at the trade deadline. He was wise to turn down most of the offers, but Chase Headley for a No. 5 prospect, a compensation draft pick and a third piece — the Padres' price — would have been ambitious and reasonable.

I appreciate all of that.

What I don't get is not appreciating what's already there.

Maybe it's 1992 forever in some minds around here.

Maybe it's Meals, for crying out loud.

"Honestly, I hear about that one a lot," reliever Chris Resop said. "Baseball doesn't work like that. Things change."

They do. And I'll stand by what I've been writing since April, that this group of Pirates is different. They aren't playing well. That's it. Hurdle aptly called "our worst batch of play all season" after this game.

He then colorfully added, "If anyone thought this was going to be easy, with the history here, with the things that we're tied to, things we weren't even part of? No! It's a tough time. We need to get out of it."

It would be impressive — not impossible — if they did.

If they don't ...

Look, it's human nature to get spoiled, to raise hopes. But it's been less than two years since the afternoon of Oct. 3, 2010, in Miami where the Pirates lost their 105th game. I was there. That was devastation.

Now, they're on the cusp not of an apocalypse but of an actual winning season. That'll happen. And that's remarkable in and of itself.

Could there be more?

Absolutely. But celebrate it. Savor it.

Enjoy it.

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