Starkey: Survival guide for Pirates fans
By Joe Starkey
Published: Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 11:24 p.m.
It happened on the way to the Pirates game Saturday. Dodging raindrops on the Clemente Bridge, I asked a random passerby if she was over the previous night's unfathomable loss. She responded with a growl and kept moving.
Lord have Mercer. Is this what high-stakes baseball is doing to us?
Granted, pennant races are new to a lot of you. Others have simply forgotten how to cope with the peculiar mix of torture and elation that pressure baseball provides. But the season didn't end Friday night.
This is just the beginning. The most important games are yet to be played. Large helpings of torture and elation lay ahead.
The Pirates were so dispirited by Friday's loss that they bounced back Saturday night with an efficient, 4-2 victory behind A.J. Burnett.
This thing could last 'til Halloween, the projected last date of a World Series game. Or it could end next Tuesday, in a sudden-death wild-card game.
Those accustomed to following fall baseball know it's unlike any other sport — and they know it's imperative to develop an internal survival kit of sorts.
Certain rules apply. Like these:
• If you can't handle it, get out now. It's not too late.
Listen to Pirates closer Jason Grilli, who resumed the high-wire act last night. I asked him before the game if he could lend fans one piece of advice on surviving the emotional roller coaster.
“I'd say if you can't take it, turn off the TV or don't come to the game,” Grilli said, laughing. “This is what baseball's all about. We all want the same thing — whether you're a fan with a jersey on, a player chewing seeds in the bullpen, chewing gum in the dugout or performing on the field. Everybody wants to win.”
And that, by extension, means losing is the risk. Sometimes in soul-crushing fashion.
• Don't overreact to any game that isn't the last game.
The reality is that the Pirates and Reds — still separated by just a game — play four more times and are all but guaranteed playoff spots. What's more, they appear to be on a collision course to meet in the ultimate elation/torture test: a wild-card game.
So, yes, Friday night's meltdown probably felt like a swift kick to the solar plexus. You're allowed to hurt for a night. You gotta get over it by the next day.
Andrew McCutchen did, and he was the one who got hit by a baseball traveling 87 mph. By mid-afternoon Saturday, Cutch was on the clubhouse couch happily playing video games with catcher Russell Martin.
How's the arm, Andrew? Sore?
“Oh, yeah,” McCutchen said. “That's without question. Little sore. But rub a little dirt on it, good to go.”
By nightfall, McCutchen was scoring the go-ahead run in the sixth inning, and nobody was talking about retribution.
Neil Walker, who left the clubhouse Friday night looking as if he'd seen a ghost, also was back in fine spirits. I asked him what he'd done to “wash off” the loss.
“Well, I went home, and I ate dinner, and I went to sleep,” he said. “Then I woke up and prepared myself the same way I always do. It's a new day. You just move on. There's still a lot of baseball. It's all still up in the air.”
• Remember, this isn't real life. It's baseball. It's supposed to be fun.
Which brings us to shortstop Clint Barmes' advice to the uninitiated.
“Enjoy it. Embrace it. Because it doesn't happen every year,” Barmes said. “These are the games you get up for. It's fun to be a part of it. You're going to have games like (Friday night's).”
First baseman Justin Morneau put it this way: “Even if you win the World Series, you're going to lose some games.”
• There is often no rhyme or reason to what happens. Remember that.
What was it Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane said about postseason baseball in the book “Moneyball?”
“My job is to get us to the playoffs. Everything after that is (expletive) luck.”
If that's an overstatement, it's not much of one, given the small sampling of games. We are amid that limited sampling now. You will live and die with each pitch. You will be elated. You will be tortured. You may even find yourself growling like a Grizzly in the rain.
Welcome (back) to high-stakes baseball.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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