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Pirates fans frustrated by team's 'Titanic' collapse

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Starling Marte pops out with the bases loaded during the eighth inning against the Reds Saturday September 29, 2012 at PNC Park.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Josh Yohe
Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

This was supposed to be the year.

Then it quickly disintegrated into the most painful year.

The Pirates on Saturday staved off extending their record streak of 19 consecutive losing seasons — at least for one night — when Andrew McCutchen belted a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. But it seems unlikely that they will recover from a horrific second-half slump, and some of their fans might never recover.

“I'm done,” said lifelong Pirates fan Chuck Gibson, 34, of Monroeville. “I really got excited when they were doing so well this summer and then they became the Pirates again. It's beyond disappointing. I'm finished with them, and I don't think I'm the only one.”

This season was unlike any other during the past two decades.

While there were a couple of notably exciting seasons — they remained in the division race until the final week in 1997 and enjoyed a surprising first half in 2011 — something about this version of the Pirates was different through the season's first four months.

Sellout crowds were becoming common at PNC Park this summer, center fielder McCutchen had became the team's first legitimate superstar since Barry Bonds and the Pirates — yes, the Pirates — were 16 games over .500 through 108 games.

No team in MLB history has finished a season with a losing record after being 16 or more games over that mark at that point in the season.

But then, no team in MLB history has displayed futility like the Pirates.

In the span of two months, the crowds have diminished at PNC Park (except for weekends), a slump has removed McCutchen from his MVP front-runner status, and the Pirates are now closer in the NL Central standings to the laughingstock Cubs than the first-place Reds.

Still, the member of the Pirates who is most familiar with this streak hopes the fans stick around.

“We want to make the playoffs,” Neil Walker said. “When that day comes, that .500 number won't matter anymore. I understand it means a lot to fans to get to .500. It means a lot to me, too. Trust me, I understand it. But we are getting better. There's no doubt.”

To longtime fans like Gibson, this summer's surprising success was nothing more than a tease.

“The National League stinks. This was their chance,” Gibson said. “If they could have been competent during the last two months, they get a wild-card spot. But they couldn't.”

This final homestand serves as a reminder for what the team once was.

The Pirates finish the series against the Reds on Sunday and then have three games against the Atlanta Braves, the two teams they battled in the playoffs a generation ago.

When the playoffs begin in October, the Reds and Braves again will be battling for a World Series berth.

The Pirates will be where they've been for the past 20 years, banished from postseason contention and leaving their fans wanting much more.

Reliever Jared Hughes admits it would be nice to win the final four games to go 81-81.

“This city wants us to win,” he said. “We want to win, too. Hopefully we can get hot here at the end of the season.”

Gibson remains less than optimistic.

“I thought this was it during the summer,” he said. “But I was wrong. The Pirates were the Titanic.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com.

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