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DOWN THE LINE

Pirates are not aiming to simply post a winning season

Club is close to clinching its first winning record since 1992, but infielder Neil Walker says the players are focused on winning the National League Central and 'doing some damage in the playoffs.'

August 24, 2013|By Bill Shaikin
  • Neil Walker, left, falls as he completes a double play next to Hunter Pence during the second inning of the Pirates' win over the Giants, 10-5, on Thursday.
Neil Walker, left, falls as he completes a double play next to Hunter Pence… (George Nikitin / Associated…)

It is not even Labor Day, but the champagne is on ice in Pittsburgh.

Not in the Pirates' clubhouse, mind you. But a wave of merriment is about to wash over town, where a beaten-down fan base can rise up to toast the end of one of baseball's most painful streaks.

The Pirates could clinch their first winning season since 1992 this week.

It gets better. The Pirates could not win 82 games over six months for the last 21 years. They could win 82 games over five months this year.

"I don't think we'll celebrate," Manager Clint Hurdle said. "There are a lot of people that will celebrate back in Pennsylvania."

Said infielder Neil Walker, who grew up in Pittsburgh: "I know the fans and media will make a much bigger deal of it than we will. For us, the focus is on winning the division and doing some damage in the playoffs."

The enthusiasm is everywhere, Walker said — on bumper stickers, on signs atop local businesses, in suddenly crowded PNC Park.

"People are jumping back on board," he said. "It's like what you see with the Steelers and Penguins."

The Pirates and Steelers each won a championship in 1979. That was the last time the Pirates won the World Series. The Steelers have won the Super Bowl twice since then, and the Penguins have won the Stanley Cup three times.

Futility, thy name is ...

If the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians each finish with a winning record, two teams would share the dubious distinction of longest current streak of losing seasons. Neither the New York Mets nor the Houston Astros have posted a winning record since 2008.

Which team has been more futile? Depends how you measure it.

The Astros have lost 472 games from 2009 to 2013, the Mets 416, through Friday's games.

The Mets totaled $607 million in opening-day payrolls from 2009 to 2013, the Astros $360 million, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.

Fight on

The UCLA Bruins won the NCAA baseball championship this year. But, when Ian Kennedy of the San Diego Padres defeated Gerrit Cole of the Pirates last week, a little-known but long-lasting streak of USC domination remained alive.

It has been at least 22 years since a starting pitcher from UCLA beat a starting pitcher from USC in a major league game. Kennedy (USC) beat Cole (UCLA) in the first such meeting since Seth Etherton (USC/Angels) and Jim Parque (UCLA/Chicago White Sox) each got a no-decision in 2000.

The previous two USC-UCLA matchups were won by Randy Johnson (USC) of the Seattle Mariners against Matt Young of the Indians in 1993 and Tim Leary of the New York Yankees in 1991. That is as far back as STATS LLC could check.

Those were the days

With the Boston Red Sox in town, what better time to check in with Manny Ramirez. Since he left the Dodgers in 2010, he has played for the Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, two teams in the Pacific Coast League and one team in Taiwan. He is unemployed.

Yet, the biography on his website identifies him as a "left fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers."

He left his heart in Mannywood. In fact, his website offers Mannywood T-shirts for sale.

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