The Pittsburgh Pirates. Now there’s a name. Who loves a pirate? Kids on Halloween, drunks on New Year’s Eve and baseball fans too. The Pirates have been around forever or 1882 to be exact. My Grandpa grew up in Pittsburgh. Good thing too because I heard all about Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, Paul “big poison” Waner and his brother Lloyd “little poison,” Mazeroski, Clemente, Bob Friend, Steve Blass.
I came to life with 1978 Topps. Ed Ott was the only Penguin to me and no one had a shorter name. He also played catcher for the Pirates and squatted for the 1979 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. I remember it well. It was the first Series in which I wrote out the lineups and kept a boxscore. Turns out it was the only one. The Pirates beat the Orioles in seven games.
But the Milwaukee Brewers had the bigger part of my heart and when they switched to the National League in 1998, the Brew Crew joined the Pirates in the NL Central. It was a bummer to say goodbye to the Buccos; short for buccaneers, as my favorite National League Team, but like grandpa used to say, “so it goes, so it goes.”
Initially the rivalry was quiet. In fact, put Pittsburgh and Milwaukee in an equation and miracle more than friction came to mind. May 26, 1959 came to mind. The Pirate’s Harvey Haddix threw a perfect game for 12 innings at County Stadium Milwaukee that day, but lost in the 13th.
The Pirates won in 1960, 1979, reached the playoffs for three consecutive years in the early 1990’s, but then Barry Bonds fled to San Francisco and that was it. The Pirates nose-dived off the radar.
And the Brewers? They reached the World Series in 1982, were competitive in 1987 and 1992 and then they too nose-dived, both teams living on the dole; bad drafts and losing streaks.
That all changed on July 9, 2003. With one swing, the Pirate’s Randall Simon put both teams on the baseball map, but baseball had nothing to do with it. Simon apparently took offense to Miller Park’s Sausage Race. He hit The Italian; worn by Mandy Bloch with a baseball bat as the traditional carnival like race passed the Pirates dugout. Italian fell to the ground. Simon was arrested, fined and suspended for three games.
I think a rivalry was born. The baseball portion kicked in a few years later when Pirates closer Matt Capps plunked Prince Fielder following a JJ Hardy homerun. Capps also got suspended and Prince didn’t do a damn thing much to everyone’s surprise. He just brushed himself off and walked calmly to first base , but the next day he retaliated by clubbing 2 homeruns.
The Brewers kicked the crap out of the Pirates at Miller Park; 22 games in a row at one point and since inter-league play began in 1997 have a 141-112 against the Buccos for a .557 winning percentage.
But times maybe changed after Andrew McCutchen got on his knees and thanked the good lord after the Pirates finally won a game at Miller Park. The Pirates beat the Brewers 12 out of 19 times last year including 5 out of 9 in Milwaukee. The Pirates have been creeping up the standings the last few years. Confidence and talent danced together in 2013. The Pirates reached the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, but like the Brewers in 2011 and 1982, they fell to the Cardinals.
Friday night was game 1 of 19 between the two with the resurrected Francisco Liriano on the Miller Park mound for the Pirates. Liriano was Harvey Haddix perfect for 3 innings, striking out 5 of the first 9 Brewers he faced. The big southpaw is one of the nastiest pitchers I’ve ever seen. Makes batters swing and miss as much as any pitcher in baseball. It’s his slider and change of pace that send batters fishing for pitches out of the strike zone.
But last year’s comeback player of the year also throws a fastball in the low 90’s and Aramis Ramirez guessed right in the fourth inning. He hit a 2-run homer. And Mark Reynolds guessed right the following inning. He clobbered one into the upper deck. The Brewers took a 4-0 lead and held on for their seventh win in a row.
The Brewer’s Wily Peralta threw consistently in the mid 90’s. He did last year as well, but he now has control of a slider and a change-up. He threw 7 innings of 4 hit baseball last night and maybe most importantly, he didn’t freak out with runners on base. He breathed.
Round 1 goes to the Brewers who now have an 8-2 record, their best start since 1987.