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Playoff Baseball a Far Cry From What Pirates Delivered in 2017

Instead of Buc-tober, they left us with a reminder of how fast and how far they had fallen.

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Postseason baseball is back in all its glory, making a triumphant return on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium for the AL Wild Card Game and reminding us in the process why October is magical.

The only more appropriate venue would have been the old Yankee Stadium, but this was close enough.

A Bronx crowd in full throat. Emotion so intense it permeated the TV screen. The intensity of a Game 7 –– Wild Card Games are a captivating, cut-to-the-chase impersonation of the same –– and the prerequisite hanging on every pitch, every swing, every routine grounder, every rocket shot and every long foul ball as if, in that particular instant, nothing else mattered.

Here in Pittsburgh, it’s getting harder to remember what that looked like, what that smelled like, what that felt like.

As recently as October of 2015, the Pirates were knee deep in it. It was Mardi Gras on Federal Street. The establishments around PNC Park were overflowing. The Pirates were in the postseason for the third straight season and this time they’d arrived after having made a six-month argument that they were perhaps the best team in baseball.

Then Jake Arrieta happened.

The Pirates still haven’t recovered.

They never made it to Buc-tober this time.

They didn’t last year, either.

What they left us with instead in 2017 was a reminder of how fast and how far they had fallen.

The Pirates followed up 2016’s 78-win disappointment by winning three fewer games.

And their fall from grace was on full display in their final PNC Park appearance this season, an otherwise meaningless hosting of the Orioles on Sept. 27.

It included the announced crowd of 24,779 rising, not as one but eventually, section by section, to afford Andrew McCutchen a standing ovation prior to his first at-bat. The announced crowd appeared to credibly assess the number of people actually in attendance (bucking a recent trend). The attraction this time was presumably the distinct possibility that it might have been McCutchen’s last appearance at PNC Park in a Pirates uniform.

It included Starling Marte throwing the ball where he shouldn’t have again (ironically, to the cutoff man) and allowing an extra base to be taken (second base, where the throw should have gone in the first place).

It included Gregory Polanco dragging a .251 average and 34 RBI to the plate for his first at-bat (in a way-too-little, way-to-late gesture, Polanco homered; make that 35 RBI as of Sept. 27).

It included Marte appearing in the batter’s box in the third with a .246 average and 28 RBI.

The Pirates’ PNC farewell even included Clint Hurdle replacing Chad Kuhl with Jack Leathersich in the top of the sixth and then replacing Leathersich with Edgar Santa after just one batter. Hurdle was managing like it was a Game 7, apparently grasping that this was as close as he was going to get.

It ended with a fly out to McCutchen, a 5-3 victory that was appreciated and yet still left everyone wanting.

And wondering if there was any reason to legitimately expect much more from the Pirates next season.

The Minnesota Twins’ presence in the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday night offered some hope, if not any tangible evidence that the Pirates’ playoff hiatus might yet be temporary.

The Twins won 59 games last season.

And the Twins traded their closer at the trade deadline this season.

And yet there they were, hanging in there for a while against the mighty Yankees on the type of October night that made it easier to appreciate that in baseball, anything truly is possible.

The Pirates have that, at least, to cling to while watching the rest of the postseason from afar.

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