Last night, the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Milwaukee Brewers to take a two-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. No Pirates fan wants to tempt fate in this, their best season in more than two decades, but it is worth noting that:
- Baseball Prospectus gives the Pirates 99.9 percent odds at making the playoffs, and more than 50 percent odds of winning the National League Central.
- The Pirates' magic number at making the playoffs is 15. Any combination of Pirates wins and Washington Nationals or Arizona Diamondbacks losses equaling 15 will give the Pirates their first playoff appearance since 1992.
- The Pirates' magic number for winning the National League Central and thus clinching a first-round "bye" in the playoffs is 23. Any combination of Pirates wins and Cardinals losses equaling 23 -- as well as any combination of Pirates wins and Reds losses equaling 21 or, for that matter, any combination of Pirates wins and Cubs losses equaling 2 -- will clinch the Pirates' first-ever National League Central title.
This is historic, what the Pirates are doing, and their fans would be doing backflips if they weren't still a little afraid this is all a hallucination. (Listen to my podcast with Deadspin's Dom Cosentino, a lifelong Pirates fan, for what this all means for this fanbase.) This is actually happening.
But most important: The win last night meant that the Pirates will have their first non-losing season since that 1992 team. I've written about this before, but the most amazing thing about this two-decade stretch of Pirates futility is that there was a clear point of delineation. The Pirates were leading 2-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series -- here's a screenshot that proves it -- and every single thing that has happened since that half inning has been terrible. The Braves came back and won, Barry Bonds left and the Pirates then didn't have a winning season for 21 years. It's sort of astounding.
How long has 21 years been? I was doing some research on the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates this morning and came away, fittingly, with 21 Amusing Factoids About The 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates From Their Baseball Reference Page. (Jerry Crasnick from ESPN also wrote a nice piece about the 1992 Pirates last week.) When the Pirates win their next game, they will have finally broken free from the two decades of pain. Here's just how long that pain has been going on.
- Dennis Lamp, who pitched in 21 games for that team, is now 60 years old.
- Miguel Batista made his Major League debut for that team, throwing two innings in an April 11 loss to Philadelphia. He wouldn't appear in the majors again for another four years and finally retired this year.
- Other players to show up on the Pirates' 1992 roster you might not expect: Danny Cox, Blas Minor, Al Martin and Kirk Gibson.
- Yeah, really, Kirk Gibson: The Pirates signed Gibson in the offseason but then released him after he hit .196 in 16 games. He retired, but then returned the next season and played four more years with the Detroit Tigers.
- For such a good team, the Pirates didn't have the best lineup. They only had five regulars with OPS+ over 100 (that's to say: above average hitters), and only two of those (Barry Bonds at 204 and Andy Van Slyke at 150) were far above average. The other three: Steve Buechele (104), Orlando Merced (103) and Jay Bell (101).
- The pitching was a lot better, and I was a bit amazed to learn just how good Tim Wakefield was that season. He was 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA in 13 starts his rookie season. He wasn't called up until July 31, when he subsequently gave up no earned runs and struck out 10 in a complete game against the Cardinals. He threw 146 pitches in that game. Five days later, he would throw 144. He also threw complete games in both of his postseason starts, both wins.
- Bonds had an amazing season, obviously, even if it was a clearly different incarnation of Barry Bonds than we saw at the end of his career in San Francisco. He notched an OPS of 1.080, which led the majors and was the best of his career in Pittsburgh. That also was the seventh best OPS of his career.
- In fact, that is the only one of Bonds' top 16 OPS seasons in which he played for Pittsburgh. Both his 2006 and 2007 seasons, at ages 41 and 42, had higher OPS than his second-best season in Pittsburgh. Yet, still, no one wanted to sign him for his age 43 season. Huh.
- That 1.080 OPS, the seventh-best of Bonds' career, would be second in baseball this season. It would have been first in 2012, 2011 and 2010.
- This was not a strong on-base team: Bonds lead the team with 127 walks, but no one else had more than 58.
- Attendance that season? 1,829,395, only good enough for seventh in the National League. Teams that had better attendance than the Pirates included the Dodgers (who lost 99 games), the Phillies (who lost 92) and the Royals (who lost 90).
- That was still as high as the Pirates attendance would rise until the opening of PNC Park in 2001. They'd only bested the mark once since then until 2011, when the attendance began to rise every season, including the likely all-time mark the Pirates will set this season.
- Jim Leyland was 47 years old in 1992 and looked like this.
- The Pirates were out of first place for only seven days, at the end of May. A 13-3 win over San Francisco on May 29 put them back in first place, and they never relented.
- The Pirates finished two games behind the Braves in the standings and thus didn't have home-field advantage in the NLCS. If the Pirates would have beaten the Braves on July 25 -- a game in which Danny Jackson gave up just one hit, a solo homer by David Justice, in a 1-0 loss -- that Game 7 would have been at Three Rivers Stadium. One wonders.
- The two main non-Bonds pieces of that team -- the gritty white fellers -- were Van Slyke and Mike LaValliere. The Cardinals had traded both of them to the Pirates five years earlier for Tony Pena, who would subsequently bat .216.
- Jim Leyland had every reason to trust Stan Belinda in the ninth inning of the NLCS Game 7. He had a 7.2 K-per-9 ratio, which is a little low, but he was only giving up one homer per nine innings, and he'd been terrific in the postseason up to that point.
- Van Slyke is still bitter about Bonds not moving in on Bream's hit. "I looked over at Barry, I was telling him to move in, move in, move in because in the pitch count [Francisco] Cabrera had actually taken a 2-0 pitch and lined one foul. He hit it really, really hard. At that point I said, 'Well, [it] looks to me that he's a dead fastball hitter, he's a pull hitter. Hopefully [Stan] Belinda can throw a breaking ball to maybe get him out.' Having said that, he's going to hit the ball either to me or he's going to hit it to Barry if he hits the ball in the outfield. He's certainly not going to hit the ball to right field. So I want Barry to have the best opportunity also, so when I motioned him in, he turned and looked at me and gave me [the] international peace sign. So I said, 'Fine, you play where you want.'"
- Doug Drabek threw 256.2 innings that season. That was fifth highest in the majors. No one has thrown that many innings in Major League Baseball since Roy Halladay in 2003.
- The loss in Game 7 assured that the last Pirates team to make the World Series would be the one from 1979. The Pirates won Game 7 of that World Series on October 17, 1979. The number of players currently on the Pirates' active roster who were alive on that day? Five. (A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Kyle Farnsworth, Jason Grilli and Clint Barmes.)
- On October 14, 1992, Andrew McCutchen was six. Pedro Alvarez was five. Gerritt Cole was two.