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Insider Only Benz: Pirates have become a baseball version of “The Hangover” trilogy

cutccchPhoto: David Hague

The Pirates 2013-2015 seasons have become a baseball version of “The Hangover” trilogy…a highly entertaining original followed by two similar sequels that left you underwhelmed as you got up from your seat.

The cast and creators of “The Hangover” always admitted “Hey, we made the same movie three times.” And they never apologized if you noticed. The Pirates have basically done the same thing.

Three years in a row they’ve been just good enough to NOT win the NL Central. Three years in a row they HAVE been good enough to host the Wild Card game. And while Johnny Cueto dropping the ball on the mound in the first edition was a scene as memorable as Mike Tyson singing “In the Air Tonight”, Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta just spent the last 18 innings of Wild Card baseball making Bucco fans feel as if they just mindlessly chased a monkey through the streets of Thailand.

Much like last year, a win was just never going to happen for the Pirates on Wednesday vs Chicago. And neither Arrieta nor Bumgarner apologized for it. Bumgarner was a post season hurricane that just happened to make landfall off the shores of the Allegheny. And a clearly confident Arrieta predicted he’d have “great success” if he stuck to the same game plan that produced the best statistical post-All Star game summer any pitcher has ever had.

He followed through on that prediction to the point that his manager Joe Maddon drew a connection to Joe Namath pool side before Super Bowl III in terms of bravado, and Bob Gibson in terms of execution.

Give the Pirates this much in the wake of their 4-0 loss to the Cubs at PNC Wednesday night- They at least made this latest remake of the Wild Card game more interesting. They brought the tying run to the plate in the sixth inning, down 4-0 (before a Starling Marte bases loaded double play ended the threat). That 7th inning benches clearing dust up gave us all something to yell about too. A year ago Pittsburgh was down 6-0 by that point and the PNC Park faithful were merely wondering which gold bridge to leap from on the way home.

“In bull riding sometimes you draw a tough bull,” said manager Clint Hurdle after the defeat. “Two years in a row we’ve drawn a tough bull.”

Well, I’ve gotta say Clint, I like that analogy a lot better than the lame Golden State Warrior substitution pattern analogy you and Neal Huntington busted out when justifying your line up decisions over the year. Yes, that theory worked for the most part (to whatever extent an 82 game, constant motion sport based on minutes and unlimited re-entry can be connected to baseball). But did it cost a few games along the way that may have prevented you from needing to outlast that tough bull for a second straight year in a one and done situation?

Speaking of which, was starting Sean Rodriguez in the Wild Card game a rough equivalent of what would have been the case if Steve Kerr had randomly written Justin Holiday into the starting line up during game 6 vs Cleveland rather than tucking him away in his accustomed last spot on the bench?

That decision had the potential to be a talking point all winter. But luckily for Hurdle the guy who didn’t start in Rodriguez’s place got in for three at bats anyway. And that guy, Pedro Alvarez, struck out three times. Also Pirate starter Gerrit Cole rolled out a distasteful five inning performance which paled in comparison to what a real ace looks like in October. So the Pirate “bulls” were bad enough that their blustery cattle rancher got off the hook.

“These last three years we’ve done some really good things around here,” sighed Bucs second baseman Neil Walker as he reflected on this period of growth and disappointment for the only organization he has ever known.

Many think that could be the Pittsburgh native’s last game in town. Walker is expected to be non tendered or traded this off-season. If that’s the case “The Pittsburgh Kid” won’t be around to help attempts to improve on the trilogy of seasons emerging from two decades of darkness.

Or maybe he won’t be part of a regression towards those losing ways. After all, the likes of J.A. Happ, A.J. Burnett, Aramis Ramirez, and Alvarez are all definitely or potentially leaving next year too. And Jung Ho Kang is still wheelchair bound in his attempts to recover from a massive leg injury in mid-September.

So while many in Pittsburgh are hoping there is yet another sequel to this run, maybe it ends like the other most recent successful baseball trilogy in town back in the early 90’s…three straight post-season appearances, but no series wins. Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

Tim Benz

TIOPS Columnist

Tim Benz can be heard on the Pittsburgh Steelers Radio Network post game show and M-F 10-1 on TribLive Radio

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