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Pirates Are Still a Long Way From a Hollywood Ending

Despite an 8-1 winning streak going into the All-Star break, the Bucs are in desperate need of a sequel, not only to win back some credibility with fans, but also to convince their owner not to sell off more pieces of the team.

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The lightning cracked, the ball exploded off Josh Bell’s bat, Colin Moran made a mad dash and in the aftermath Clint Hurdle let everyone know Ray Searage said it had been just like a scene out of “The Natural.”

Bell’s two-run double in the 10th inning on Sunday brought the Bucs back from a 6-5 deficit, this after the Pirates had forced extra innings by rallying from two runs down in the bottom of the ninth.

The Hollywood ending against Milwaukee ran the Pirates’ record in the eight days prior to Major League Baseball’s All-Star break to 8-1, this after General Manager Neal Huntington had let it be known a record of 4-4 in that span wasn’t going to cut it in terms of compelling management not to sell off pieces of the team for whatever could be gleaned with an eye toward future seasons in advance of the July 31 trade deadline.

What the Pirates are in still-desperate need of now is a sequel.

At 48-49 prior to Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, the Pirates are neither a contender nor a team that can in good conscience trade a Jordy Mercer, Corey Dickerson or Josh Harrison –– players perceived to be short-term performers in Pittsburgh because of their contract status and/or what they’d cost to retain in the long term –– for prospects.

Not that the Pirates have a conscience.

The fans who have been staying away from PNC Park in attention-getting numbers this season are apparently convinced the Buccos don’t, that owner Bob Nutting cares only about his financial bottom line.

The announced crowd of 17,583 for the Miracle Against Milwaukee was the second-smallest gathering among the 15 that attended a Major League game on Sunday.

The previous Sunday, for the game against the Phillies that jump-started what became the current 8-1 run, the Pirates drew an announced crowd of 19,542, the smallest in the big leagues.

For the season, the Pirates average attendance of 17,470 ranks ahead of only Oakland, Tampa Bay and Miami.

That’s a lot of money Spend-Nutting-Win-Nutting owner Bob Nutting isn’t making on a nightly/daily basis.

And more slashing of the payroll would only exacerbate the situation.

The smart money is on that happening in advance of the July 31 deadline, anyway.

If this really was a movie, ownership/management would suddenly realize the error of its ways, Huntington would add rather than subtract to his roster of flawed-but-scrappy wannabes and a magical run to the postseason would ensue (Starling Marte would score from second on a surprise bunt by Elias Diaz in the climatic scene).

The middle ground, at least for the time being, would be to do nothing and continue to see how this plays out.

The Pirates resume play after the All-Star break on Friday night in Cincinnati. They’ll also play three in Cleveland and four at home against the New York Mets through July 29.

A record of 4-4 or, more accurately, 5-5, isn’t going to cut it through that 10-game stretch, either.

But what if the Pirates take two of three from the Reds, two of three from the Indians and three of four from the Mets?

They’ve discovered or have been reminded of late that they’re a much better team when the starting pitching sizzles. When the bullpen does its job because the starters have first done theirs. When Bell is hitting the ball in the gaps and Gregory Polanco is hitting it over the wall. When Marte is stealing bases and bunting and when Dickerson is leading off.  

Was what we saw in the eight days before the break merely an inevitable hot streak over the course of a 162-game season?

Or, did it inspire some collective confidence?

And if it’s the latter, are the Pirates now poised to potentially over-achieve enough to contend for the postseason, a development management thought might be plausible heading into the season?

Maybe the 4-4 declaration and the desire to somehow ward off what’s expected next has brought the Pirates together. 

They need not go as far as to rip another piece of bowtie off a cardboard cutout of Nutting every time they win a game.

But the Pirates’ objective the rest of the way –– from the top down –– should be to raise the Jolly Roger, not the white flag.

Their mission should be trying to win back some trust and credibility from the fan base if not the N.L. Central Division.

More business as usual as a legitimate means to a someday-competitive end would be about as believable as the notion that there really was a Roy Hobbs and he really did once knock the cover off the ball.  

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