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Suddenly, It's a Whole New Ballgame for Pirates

The non-waiver trade deadline came and went on Tuesday and when the dust had settled, the Pirates were a legitimate contender. They had bought, not sold players and they had positioned themselves to compete, not play out the string in 2018.

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The announced crowd for the Pirates’ coming out party on Tuesday night at PNC Park was only 18,972, and Cubs fans made a significant contribution toward that number.

But everyone was on their feet as Felipe Vazquez attempted to put Ben Zobrist and the game away with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and a mere one run separating the Bucs and the Cubs.

Suddenly, it’s a whole new ballgame.

Vazquez eventually got it done and the Pirates won for the 16th time in their last 20 games, but it’s what they might yet accomplish in August and September, and in subsequent seasons, that’s really intriguing.

Suddenly, it’s a whole new ballgame.

The non-waiver trade deadline came and went on Tuesday and when the dust had settled, the Pirates were a legitimate contender. They had bought, not sold players. They had added, not subtracted payroll. And they had positioned themselves to compete, not play out the string in 2018.

They haven’t folded their hand, as General Manager Neal Huntington had suggested they very well might in early July.

Instead, they opted to ante up.

MLB.com’s Richard Justice maintained Huntington “probably won the day on Tuesday by acquiring (starting pitcher Chris) Archer.”

Who had that?

Not even Clint Hurdle, probably.

Suddenly, it’s a whole new ballgame.

A Pirates’ team that defied pessimistic expectations with a 26-17 start and then immediately confirmed everyone’s worst fears via a 14-31 nosedive managed to get it together just in time to avoid another trade-deadline dismantling and silence the annual “wait ’til next year” narrative.

This year still might not be the year. But with the additions of Archer and reliever Keone Kela to a core that has slowly emerged as worthy of investing in, the narrative now is that the Pirates are suddenly back in the baseball business.

How’d that happen?

“A lot of people don’t understand how hard this game is,” outfielder Corey Dickerson, currently on the disabled list, observed after the Pirates had resumed play following the All-Star break with a three-game sweep in Cincinnati. “It’s a game of failure.

“What people don’t realize also is, this is a young team. We had to learn how to lose. You learn how to win, but then you learn from your failures. A lot of the guys that are younger, when we were losing, we didn’t know how to get out of it. A lot of the (veteran) guys kept leaning on the younger guys, we kept preaching ‘stay pat,’ and we came out of it.”

And now they’re back in it, not just the race for a wild card invitation to the playoffs but, with eight games left against the Cubs after tonight and nine more to play against the Brewers, the N.L. Central Division championship.

And the future looks even more promising, as opposed to looking like even more of the same.

That, at least, is what it felt like as Vazquez whiffed slugger Anthony Rizzo for the second out in the ninth on Tuesday night.

Pirates fans seemingly reacted with equal parts exhilaration and relief.

Rizzo was so frustrated he didn’t even run to first base after the third strike initially bounced away from catcher Francisco Cervelli and instead just stalked back to the dugout.

It felt suspiciously like a pennant race.

Suddenly, it’s a whole new ballgame.

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