Kovacevic: Hey, baseball, can you hear us?
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The decibel level was deafening from the record 40,487 packing PNC Park on this most magical of Tuesday nights for your 127-year-old Pittsburgh Baseball Club. Honestly, it was so powerful, so passionate that some fans could be seen covering their ears from their own screams.
Russell Martin, who's played for the Yankees and Dodgers, called it “the loudest I've ever heard.”
A.J. Burnett, also formerly employed in the Bronx?
“Nothing like that. Nowhere!”
And that wasn't all.
The leaping and high-fiving, the flag-waving and fist-pumping for seemingly every other strike had the 13-year-old structure bouncing like a junior high gym.
The booing with the player intros was worthy of a Heinz Field sellout welcoming Ray Lewis and the Ravens through the tunnel.
The taunting of poor Johnny Cueto was worthy of a Consol Energy Center sellout tormenting Ilya Bryzgalov or whatever woebegone goalie the Flyers are employing.
The uniform, menacing feel of the so-called “Blackout,” urged by Michael McKenry on social media, was worthy an international soccer base.
And that wasn't all.
Pirates 6, Reds 2.
National League wild-card winners.
Bound for St. Louis and a best-of-five.
Hey, Major League Baseball, you really want a piece of this?
“Did you feel that out there?” Clint Hurdle was fairly shouting through squinted, champagne-soaked eyes in the almost-as-loud clubhouse. “That's incredible. It was awesome. The fans made a difference from the time we took the field. I don't know if it can scare the other team, but you can feel it.”
“Sure looked like they got the job done tonight,” Marlon Byrd said. “I mean, I don't know if they frustrated Cueto, but it was all a little weird with them chanting his name. It was amazing.”
There was so much to love on the field. Francisco Liriano, whose slider was criminal enough to have him sent to the Hague, was brilliant again. Byrd launched a bleacher bomb, and Martin showed him up with two. Neil Walker smacked an RBI double off that same fence, followed by a clap at second base that only a Pittsburgh kid could feel at an event like this.
It was beautiful, all of it. But not the story. Not on this night.
I'm looking at you, Pittsburgh.
And believe me, so were all those involved with the other nine teams remaining in the playoffs.
Think the Cardinals or any opponent wants to come in here and face the high heat this place just threw at the Reds and Dusty Baker and all their grade-school, plunking-as-intimdation garbage?
Think any opponent wants to come in here and risk being as rattled as the weak-willed Reds were pretty much from the first pitch?
Did you see it?
Cueto, the pitcher Baker chose because of his “big-game” presence, melted faster on the North Side than an Icy Ball Man special. Lasted all of 3 1⁄3, with his most lasting impression being a drop of the ball on the mound, a merciless teasing from the crowd, followed immediately by Martin's first blast.
How about usually steady infielders Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips muffing grounders?
How about Joey Votto, one of the game's truly great hitters, reduced to a reaching, hacking corkscrew?
How about Baker staring from the dugout into space?
Third baseman Todd Frazier called it “the best crowd I've ever seen,” and Votto said the home field the Pirates stole over the weekend was “definitely an advantage,” but not all of the Reds agreed.
“It has nothing to do with where we were playing,” Phillips insisted, but also adding, “You saw the game. They played with some swag, man. They were turned up. When a team is turned up there's no way around it, man. Nothing you can do.”
If the Reds looked like a team with no idea what hit them, there's a reason: They couldn't have.
They couldn't understand the unique mix of love and fear and thrill and dread and anticipation and anxiety they'd face. They couldn't understand the resentment built up over two decades that our oldest franchise was left for dead — not least of which was by baseball's still-skewed economics — while the other two excelled. They couldn't understand why Doug Drabek would get a thundering standing ovation with the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday, a reminder of what could have been on that fateful night in 1992. They couldn't understand why fans from 80-and-older could feel the same excitement in a franchise's rebirth as a college kid could in seeing this for the first time.
And they certainly couldn't understand what would compel 50 diehards to take up positions on the Clemente Bridge, from which one can spy only a small slice of the field through the batter's eye and the center-field security building. A modern-day knothole, if you will.
It was a madhouse that, quite literally, couldn't be contained.
It even exceeded Burnett's standard for how lively it should be, and that, you might have heard, is pretty high.
“Packed-out Blackout!” he said. “They definitely came ready. They were here for us. They supported us.”
He wiped his brow and caught himself for a moment.
“Thank you, fans. Thank you.”
You know, these Pirates are dangerous in part because of the unknown. They've got something special, something a scouting report or spreadsheet might not be able to pinpoint. That's scary for an opponent.
But this setting, man, this is far more dangerous because no outsider could grasp this.
That's for us to know and everyone else to keep finding out.
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