The real losers: Loyal Pirates fans deliver 2 million -- for what?

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Defeat has many faces, and so does disappointment. Just look at the millions of Pirates fans.

The question around town, for those willing to talk about it, is whether this year's losing season -- the Pirates' ignominious 20th in a row -- was better or worse than the rest. "Better" because the team got Pittsburgh charged up through two-thirds of the season and came close to finishing with a winning record? Or "worse" for practically the same reason -- playing so well into July that the Pirates were 16 games above .500, only to collapse in spectacular fashion?

To many of the faithful, it was the same old same old. Well, yes and no. What is truly the same is the sense of frustration that pervades PNC Park.

If only the Nutting ownership had acquired another big bat down the stretch. If only it had shored up the crumbled pitching staff. If only Pedro Alvarez had been more consistent and Neil Walker hadn't been injured. Pirates fans are left again to ponder the what-ifs instead of the playoffs.

That's no way to reward the loyalty of the home crowd, which exceeded 2 million for the first time since PNC Park opened in 2001. Sure, the team posted a winning record on the North Shore of 44-35 through Monday. But it's a 162-game season, and the fans deserve answers for why the team sank like a stone in the final third.

It's going to be a long winter, but it could be an even drearier spring -- when hope doesn't abound at the tired, empty promises that come again from the front office.

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