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Kovacevic: Don't dare bury these Pirates

| Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 12:23 a.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole delivers against the Cardinals during the first inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — Baseball giveth, and baseball ... well, you can't just say baseball taketh away because, as an entire city can attest with the saddest of certainty this morning, that doesn't suffice.

Baseball punch-eth in the gut.

It kick-eth in the teeth.

It tear-eth out the heart, crush-eth it to pieces, then laugh-eth menacingly knowing you'll be back like a fool next spring to do it all over again.

You will, too.

And so will these fantastic, unforgettable, franchise-changing Pirates, as well, even after the excruciating emotion that followed the 6-1 flat-liner of a loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.

They will be back, too. This isn't 1992, so stop citing it, stop comparing it and, for crying out loud, stop complaining about minutiae.

Hasn't this group earned at least that much?

Maybe the most powerful assessment of what this team achieved this summer came from, of all places, the opposition right after this game.

“Our hats are off to Clint Hurdle and the Pittsburgh Pirates,” Hurdle's counterpart, Mike Matheny, told a roomful of reporters, none of whom asked a question on that topic. “That team earned our respect, and the respect of all of baseball.”

Think he's blowing smoke?

Or does that sound an awful lot like the hard-earned truth?

If you want to sulk, go nuts. Me, I'm looking at not only what happened but also what's to come.

And for what it's worth, that was very much the heads-held-high stance taken in the visiting clubhouse. I saw Jason Grilli and maybe a couple other guys with moist eyes. I saw Francisco Liriano with his head down at his stall. But mostly, I saw hugs and handshakes, backslaps and attaboys.

Good for them.

“There's no crying in baseball,” Grilli said through a small smile. “We're a family in here. We've got each other's backs right now.”

Someone asked Andrew McCutchen if it was too soon to appreciate the positive, and he nearly interjected, “Heck, no! We won't let this one game define us. We know that this season was something special, something people in Pittsburgh will remember for years. We appreciate that.”

Which isn't to suggest they took losing well. I saw nothing of the kind, certainly not when a few of them stayed by the dugout railing to watch Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals whoop it up near the mound after the final out. I didn't hear one player suggest they were happy with how it ended.

“Our goal,” Pedro Alvarez pointedly stated, “is to be that last team dancing around and spraying champagne. And I think we feel like we're closer to that now than ever.”

Exactly. I'll say it again: They will be back.

Look at the rotation, and all but A.J. Burnett are assured of returning. I'd be stunned if Burnett isn't back, too.

Look at the bullpen, with all of the primary players returning.

Look around the diamond, and there's lockdown stability at every position except first base and right field. Maybe shortstop.

Look at top prospects Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco being as close now as Cole was last fall.

So, yeah, this hurts.

It hurts, in particular, that Starling Marte and Neil Walker went a combined 1 for 37 in this series, that Justin Morneau never hit a home run in one-plus month at cleanup, that the offense as a whole mustered a grand total of two runs in Games 4 and 5. It's fair to credit Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright, but it's also fair to observe that the Pirates' pitching was good enough that something, anything out of the batter's box would have put them on a plane to Los Angeles.

No aftertaste will be more bitter.

But know this about the immediate aftermath: Gerrit Cole and Alvarez were the Pirates' stars. Cole took Game 2 by storm, then came out facing elimination and conceded only David Freese's two-run laser over the left-field fence in the second inning. Alvarez slugged three home runs and had an RBI in all six playoff games.

The future's so bright for both that their breakouts on this big stage almost should overshadow all else from this series.

Almost.

Know this, too, about the immediate aftermath: Andy Van Slyke wasn't sitting out in center field, bill sunk, eyes to the heavens. Players weren't looking around at other stalls wondering if they'd ever be teammates again. There was no Steve Avery or John Smoltz. There was no Belinda, no Bonds, no Bream.

These 2013 Pirates buried all that forever. They brought Major League Baseball back to Pittsburgh in a larger-than-life way, and they didn't do it just by ending The Streak. They did it by going all Pedro on it and pulverizing it into the river.

All this will be there again in exactly 172 days.

Count-eth on it.

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