Pirates showed they're no longer doormats in memorable 2013 season
ST. LOUIS — Andrew McCutchen had hoped to celebrate his 27th birthday Thursday in Los Angeles, preparing for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
Instead, the All-Star center fielder spent the wee hours of that morning on a dark, quiet plane ride back to Pittsburgh after the Pirates were eliminated in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. The Cardinals won the NLDS and will take on the Dodgers for a World Series berth.
“We didn't end up where we wanted to,” McCutchen said with a shrug. “But we definitely had an amazing year. A year to remember.”
For the first time since 1992, the Pirates kept playing beyond the regular season. They finished with a winning record. They beat the Reds in the NL wild-card game. And they gave the top-seeded Cardinals a battle by taking the NLDS to the limit.
After spending two decades as the laughingstock of the major leagues, the Pirates are respectable again.
Even after a tough series loss.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of,” closer Jason Grilli said. “I know (the Cardinals) respect us. I know they don't think we're a doormat. I don't think a lot of teams look at us that way anymore.”
After absorbing a blowout loss in Game 1, the Pirates outscored the Cardinals, 12-4, over the next two games. They ultimately succumbed to a pair of white-hot starting pitchers. Rookie Michael Wacha and two relievers combined for a one-hitter in Game 4. Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright tossed a complete game in the clincher.
“Our hat's off, without a doubt, to the Pirates,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “That team has absolutely earned our respect and I think the respect of all of baseball (with) how they play the game — a relentless style, a very athletic team, fast and strong with great pitching. They've got it all.”
The past few years, everyone associated with the Pirates — from the top levels of the front office down to the 25th man on the roster — was quick to say they wouldn't claim ownership of the franchise's long, dreadful losing streak.
McCutchen was just 7 years old when the 1993 team went 75-87 to begin the spiral of losing seasons. The shame and blame must be spread over dozens of players, coaches, scouts and executives.
However, the group of players that shared hugs and back-slaps in the somber clubhouse late Wednesday night can take sole credit for doing something special.
“It's good, knowing we are the team that made the change (happen),” McCutchen said. “We're not the team that lost again. We're the team that won. You have to take pride in that.”
“It means a lot to me because it feels like this is only the beginning for us. This is a great start to have, something to remember going into the offseason. It will definitely be a motivator for all of us.”