Texas couldn't hold 'em.
Straight from a being pecked to a fine Hitchcockian pulp in a weekend attack of "The [Red]Birds," the Pirates spun away and by sundown Wednesday had somehow completed a road trip-saving sweep of the Texas Rangers.
Where the stars at night are big and bright (clap, clap, clap, clap), there was clutch starting pitching amid hair-raising bullpen hi-jinks. There was timely hitting and even untimely hitting. There was a sense reborn that the on-again off-again on-again off-again on-again off-again Pirates collapse finally is mere conjecture.
So it's time to look hard at the calendar, and, as they always say in the movies, to "get a visual" on the finish line.
"Do you have a visual?"
"Yeah, and I can see it, too!"
This is the day the final Pirates homestand begins, traditionally a day all but unnoticed by the reliably disappointed citizenry, a time sometimes so depressing that it's highlighted by the release of next year's schedule, which itself creates barely a breath of interest.
Oh right, is Sauerkraut Saul still leading? I always think Jalapeno Hannah could catch up if she didn't have to carry that purse.
Last year, it started Sept. 28, with the Pirates gurgling through a 19-39 submergence in fourth place, 18 games behind, with six appointments remaining against the postseason bound Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves.
But this time, this year, things are very different.
Very, very different.
For the first time since 1997, when the traveling Freak Show returned home for a final engagement in second place, 3 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros never to crawl one inch closer, the Pirates will begin a sprawling 11-game finale tonight that carries the full complement of potential implications. You know, the kind that final homestands are supposed to hold.
When it ends a week from Sunday, they could even have confirmed a reservation in the postseason, such as if the Washington Nationals were to wake up Sept. 23 seven games out of the wild-card race with six to play, for example.
What the Pirates need, it says here, are seven or eight wins between here and that morning, preferably with two of them coming against the Cincinnati Reds next weekend.
No one can see with real clarity to the other side of these next 11 games, four with the Chicago Cubs, four with the San Diego Padres, and three with the relentless Reds, but conclusions might be drawn from some semi-relevant facts, some of them convenient to Clint Hurdle's team, some of them more definitely among those inconvenient truths.
The Pirates aren't exactly hot at the start of their final homestand. Warming, bubbling, simmering, but not hot.
They're 14-17 since hitting their apex of 26 games over .500 (70-44 Aug. 8). They're 33-31 since July 1. In their 10 games this month, they've scored 36 runs and allowed 56.
Offensively, they are pretty much the image of Pedro Alvarez, a young stud bulging with potential who produces next to nothing for long stretches.
Tuesday night in Texas, Alvarez batted seventh in the lineup. Tell me, when was the last time the man who was leading the National League in home runs Sept. 10 batted seventh?
Tell ya' what, I'll just guess never, rather than bother the nice folks at Elias Sports Bureau.
Alvarez has a chance to drive in 100 runs and Alvarez has a chance to strike out 200 times. He's pretty much split the fan base between his vocal critics and the even more vocal critics of his vocal critics. It's become a brutal social-network dichotomy.
Alvarez drove in the winning run Monday night, providing a pivotal, 1-0 victory behind Gerrit Cole.
But then, why wouldn't he? He's getting paid to drive in runs, and Monday night, he drove in a run. Way ta be.
See how this goes?
Of Alvarez's 32 homers, 22 have come with no one on base. Of Andrew McCutchen's 19, 14 were solo. This is part of the reason the 2013 Pirates never have emerged offensively, the reason executive of the year-in-waiting Neal Huntington never stopped stockpiling bats for the stretch drive that begins tonight.
The Pirates have 17 games left, 11 at home, and play the Cubs and Padres in 11 of those games. The Reds, two games behind the Pirates, have 15 games left, only six at home, but nine are against the Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets and Astros, who are about to clinch the wretched distinction of being the worst team in baseball three consecutive years. The St. Louis Cardinals likely have the most favorable schedule. They have 17 left, 10 at home, and 14 against the Brewers, Cubs, Colorado Rockies and Seattle Mariners.
You may draw conclusions from that at your own peril.
Maybe we'll be sitting here in six weeks pointing out that the previous time the Pirates and Rangers met, Texas couldn't hold 'em.
Gene Collier: email@example.com. First Published September 12, 2013 4:00 AM