There are no shortage of “the last time…” facts for those looking to put into context the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ long-awaited surge into playoff contention.
Such as: The last time the Pirates were 10 or more games above .500 entering the month of August, current Pirates superstar and National League MVP frontrunner Andrew McCutcheon was a five-year old in Florida.
Or: The last time the Pirates were legitimate playoff contenders, Ross Perot was turning the United States Presidential race into a three-man affair and America’s Olympic icon was Dan O’Brien (Michael Phelps was seven years old and, presumably, a very good swimmer).
Or: It has been so long since the Pirates have been a playoff team that two players from that squad have since become major league managers (including current Arizona Diamondbacks skipper Kirk Gibson) and one player, ace pitcher Doug Drabek, now has a son playing in the major leagues (injured Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Kyle Drabek).
No matter how you phrase it, 1992 was a long time ago and this year has been a long time in coming for Pirates fans, who are finally rooting on a winner after the longest stretch of futility in the history of the four major North American sports.
The Pirates entered play today, Thursday, August 2, with a 60-44 record, one game ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the race for the first NL wild card and just three games behind baseball’s best team, the Cincinnati Reds, in the NL Central. (There’s another reflection of how much has changed in 20 years: The NL Central didn’t exist until 1994, when the first wild card berth was added.)
At the very least, the Pirates should end their streak of 19 straight losing seasons, the longest stretch in the history of the four major North American pro sports. Those losing seasons have not been cheapies: The Pirates have lost at least 86 games 16 times in that stretch, including each of the last 12 seasons. Last year, the Pirates were over .500 at the July 31 trade deadline but went 18-38 the rest of the way to finish 72-90.
The best-case scenario for the Pirates is something that has been unimaginable for two decades or more. The Pirates haven’t been to the playoffs since 1992, when they lost in the NL Championship Series for the third straight season, and haven’t reached the World Series since they won it all in 1979.
Drawing fans in the second half of the season has been an annual challenge for the Pirates, who in recent years have resorted to promotions in which they pick up the service fees for fans who buy tickets to certain games, but the opportunity to see the Pirates pursue the good kind of history has lured fans to PNC Park — long recognized as one of the best stadiums in baseball — in a fashion unseen since the facility’s debut season in 2001.
The Pirates are averaging 26,016 fans through 49 home dates, an increase of 2,082 fans per game over last year’s figures. At that pace the Pirates would draw just over 2.1 million fans, which would be their most since they welcomed just under 2.5 million fans in 2001.
The Pirates may even approach or surpass that figure. The Pirates have drawn a crowd of at least 32,000 in 11 of their last 16 home games at 38,362-seat PNC Park, including five of six games on their most recent homestand against the out-of-contention Miami Marlins and Chicago Cubs from Friday, July 20 through Wednesday, July 25.
And the Pirates will almost certainly get an additional boost at the gate when they begin their next homestand, a season-high 11-game stint, against the Arizona Diamondbacks Monday, August 6. That will mark the first full homestand for the Pirates since they acquired pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Chad Qualls, outfielder Travis Snider and first baseman Gaby Sanchez in a quartet of deals before the July 31 trading deadline.