It truly was a phenomenon in the city of Pittsburgh. Pirates gear being flashed with pride on every block in the area; T-shirts, hats, jerseys. The entire city was alive with "Bucco Fever" as they viewed the team as competitors and not just a lame segue to Steelers' training camp. Each game was watched with bated breath as the team battled for win after win in hopes of erasing eighteen years of embarrassment to all of sportsdom. As the wins piled up, the national attention became justified and the team continued to impress, landing in first place as late as July 25th. The NL Central Division, a title never won by the Pirates, was in reach as it appeared they would leave the .500 record in the dust.

And then it happened.

At the end of a nineteen inning marathon against the Atlanta Braves, Jerry Meals made one of the worst calls in MLB history and the Pirates never recovered. Just like they never recovered when Sid Bream slid into home as Barry Bonds' throw took four hops off the line to clinch the NLCS in 1992, the Pirates last winning season. Fast forward to July 26th, Julio Lugo slid into home seemingly tagged five feet before reaching the plate but was called safe by home plate umpire, Jerry Meals.

Since the call, the Pirates are 1-11 and many of their losses haven't been close. As I stated in my season preview back in March, this team will go only as far as their pitching will take them. The pitching took them to first place in the last week of July and now it has taken them four games under. In eleven games after the Jerry Meals fiasco, the team ERA is a staggering 6.92. During that time, the pitching staff has been selfless, allowing everyone a chance to blow an opportunity for a big out. Charlie Morton was pounded in a 10-3 loss against the Phillies on July 29th, Kevin Correia surrendered four of the six home runs off of Chicago in a 11-5 defeat on August 2nd, Jeff Karstens gave up a grand slam and allowed 9 runs over 3.1 innings against the putrid San Diego Padres, and Paul Maholm allowed 7 runs over 6 2/3 innings the following day. The only Pirates' starter who has been somewhat solid is James McDonald who help his own cause with a three run double after giving up five runs.

The bullpen blew multiple chances to end the streak and failed just as badly the rotation. After pitching seven scoreless innings, Charlie Morton was relieved for Chris Resop. The normally stingy Resop gave up a solo home run and the Cubs ended up winning 1-0. The following night, the Pirates took a 7-5 lead into the 8th inning. Hurdle elected to use Daniel McCutchen, who hadn't pitched in two days, instead of going to Jose Veras, the eighth inning specialist for most of the year. McCutchen loaded the bases, Jason Grilli gave up a run, Joe Beimel walked in the tying run, and Jose Veras allowed a sacrifice fly to give the Cubs the lead.

Now, ten games back and with the pitching regressing, the Pirates look to be out of the NL Central race for 2011. The goal should now focus on getting over the .500 mark and finishing the season on a high note. Clint Hurdle was brought in to give the franchise a jolt and prevent the old adage of "here we go again." Now, with a road series against the defending World Series champion Giants, the Pirates have their backs against the wall in trying to salvage what looked like an exciting season two weeks ago. A series win would revitalize the team and the fan base. Although it would be a major surprise to see a team playing so poorly, take two out of three against one of the National League's best teams, the Pirates have surprised people all year.

Posted in Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Steelers

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