Last night, baseball fans witnessed a modern miracle as the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Houston Astros 5-1 to move 4 games over .500. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-3 to drop to just 3 games over .500, which means that the Pirates are now in second place in their division for the first time since 1992.
Of course, way back in 1992 – when most of your girlfriends weren’t even born yet – there were only two divisions in the National League, so it’s not as impressive that the Pirates are just 1.5 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the NL Central. But hey, who am I to ruin the fun? Even if it’s just for today, this is a huge milestone for the Pirates, as the franchise has become the biggest loser in modern professional sports with 18 consecutive losing seasons since they lost to the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 NLCS.
Today could mark the start of a 20-game losing streak for the Pirates, for all we know, so just for now, let’s live like we were dying, to quote a song I once heard at a gas station. Maybe the Pirates will even keep winning with their young, talented stable of players, featuring guys like Andrew McCutchen and… his teammates. Maybe they’ll even go all the way and end Steel Town’s baseball misery. Hell, not many people ever thought we’d even be where we are today.
That’s why I thought we could take a look back at all of the amazing things that have happened throughout the past 18 years just to give us an idea of how monumental this day is.
(For the ultimate reading experience, please listen to The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!”)
1992 – After finishing the regular season with a 96-66 record as NL East Champions, the Pirates advanced to the NLCS for the third-consecutive year, only to lose for the third-consecutive year. This time, the Bucs lost to the Braves in an exciting 7-game series. After game 7, 28-year old Barry Bonds vowed to work his hardest to become the best player in baseball and win many World Series titles, just not with the Pirates. He signed with the San Francisco Giants and was 6-foot-2 and weighed 185-pounds.
1993 – The Pirates finished 75-87, good enough for 5th in the NL East. Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays won their second-consecutive World Series, as the Braves and Philadelphia Phillies shamed America’s pastime in consecutive years. Over in San Fran, Barry Bonds hit 46 homeruns while batting .336. He also stole 29 bases en route to his third NL MVP award. In music, Billy Ray Cyrus and the Spin Doctors sold more records than Pearl Jam’s “Ten”. In fashion, Z. Cavarrici pants were the sh*t.
1994 – Major League Baseball was unhinged as America’s pastime on August 11, 1994, when the players went on strike and ended the season early. At the time of the strike, the Pirates had a 53-61 record and were 13 games behind the NL Central leaders (in the first season of realignment), the Cincinnati Reds. Said manager Jim Leyland while smoking two Marlboro Reds at once, “Damn, we totally could have won.” With 34 games canceled, Bonds still produced 37 homeruns and 81 RBIs. In the film industry, Tom Hanks captured our hearts as Forrest Gump, while millions of angst-ridden teens cried as jocks asked them, “Hey, what was the last thing that went through Kurt Cobain’s mind?”
1995 – The Atlanta Braves defeated the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series, proving to Pirates fans that rebuilding wasn’t something that every team has to go through. Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn was named the AL MVP and somewhere a young Steve Phillips practiced writing checks. Barry Bonds hit just 33 homeruns and 104 RBIs while batting .294. A down year, perhaps. In TV news, a young comedian named Will Ferrell made his Saturday Night Live debut, Disney announced the purchase of ESPN, and the OJ Simpson trial dominated daytime ratings. President Bill Clinton also gave Mexico $20 billion to avoid an economic collapse. Hey Mexico, can we talk about that loan now?
1996 – The New York Yankees climbed out from decades of darkness to regain their status as the greatest franchise in baseball history by winning the World Series. The Pirates, on the other hand, were 73-89 and last in the NL Central. Bonds, though, got a shot of power, you could say. He hit 42 homeruns and 129 RBIs while hitting .308. Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics and the U.S. dominated with 101 medals, which had nothing to do with Russia being broken up. The music world also shed a tear when Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley divorced.
1997 – The Florida Marlins, a franchise for just four years, won a World Series after owner Wayne Huizenga assembled a crack squad of elite players. What I mean is he bought a title. The Pirates, though, finished second in the NL Central! Too bad they had a losing record. Bonds slipped a little, as he only hit 40 homeruns and 101 RBIs. In movies, Leo DiCaprio was “King of the world!” as Titanic and that chubby British chick demolished box office records. Other prominent films included Air Bud and Beautician and the Beast. And the Spice Girls joined the Beatles as the only two British groups with two albums on the U.S. charts at the same time. The late 90s were a dark time for music.
1998 – Momentum be damned, the Pirates once again finished last in the NL Central with a 69-93 record. Derek Jeter and the Yankees won another World Series as their fans loudly proclaimed to have never left them. Bonds’ power dipped again with just 37 homeruns and his stolen base count dropped to its lowest since 1988. But he was older and he gained a little weight. No biggy. Nobody really cared about Bonds, though, because Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa stole the spotlight and saved baseball with their historic homerun race. Playstation and Nintendo 64 laid the groundwork for years of video game rivalry, while American kids reached their highest obesity level ever to date. Completely unrelated, I’m sure.
1999 – Oh look, the Yankees won again. I had forgotten how annoying the late 90s were. But it was another promising year for the Pirates, who finished third in the NL Central, just 5 games below .500. Could big things be in their immediate future? Spoiler alert: No. Bonds, however, had a rougher season. The slugger battled injuries and finished with just 34 homeruns in 102 games. Meanwhile, Hulk Hogan reunited both sides of the NWO as the WCW’s ratings crumbled and the WWF once again rose to prominence. Britney Spears had the biggest hit of the year with “Baby One More Time” while the No. 2 spot belonged to Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5”. Elsewhere, Sarah McLachlan released “Angel”, ensuring a future of aggravating ASPCA commercials.