"To be honest with you, it's all about playing that extra month of the season. If you can get yourself in a position to play that extra month, that's what we strive for."
-- Jay Bell
MILWAUKEE -- Hard as it might be for younger Pirates fans to believe, the team has done this before.
The previous game that became win No. 82 for the Pirates occurred Sept. 12, 1992 in Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, and featured a cast of characters now known around baseball for other pursuits. Right fielder Ruben Amaro led off for the Phillies that night. Pirates shortstop Jay Bell hit a key ninth-inning triple. John Wehner started at third base. Carlos Garcia and Lloyd McClendon entered the game in the later innings. John Kruk batted third for Philadelphia. And Stan Belinda blew the save, then capped the Pirates comeback on offense.
"There were games, it just seemed like through those three years [from 1990-92] ... it just seemed like nothing surprised you," said Wehner, now part of the Pirates broadcast crew.
McClendon went on to manage the Pirates. Garcia manages in their minor league system, coaching top prospects such as outfielder Gregory Polanco and pitcher Jameson Taillon when they played for Class AA Altoona this season. Amaro is the Phillies general manager, and Kruk works as a broadcaster and analyst for ESPN.
At that point in 1992, the Pirates were fresh off a streak of nine wins in 10 games.
"We were having a quite a great deal of success in those three years," said Bell, now the Pirates hitting coach. "We had short goals set. It was game-to-game, of course."
Barry Bonds would win the NL MVP that season, hitting 34 home runs and stealing 39 bases with a 1.080 on-base plus slugging percentage. Andy Van Slyke hit .324. Doug Drabek finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting after compiling a 2.77 ERA in 2562/3 innings, and rookie knuckleballer Tim Wakefield went 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA after making his debut July 31 that year.
"I just think you had a good mix of players," Wehner said. "You had talent, you had depth, and I think that's going to prevail."
On that day in 1992, the Pirates trailed, 4-0, after six innings. Orlando Merced put them on the board with an RBI single in the seventh. Gary Varsho hit a ball to center, but an error charged to Phillies center fielder Stan Javier let two more runs score. Dave Clark's sacrifice fly tied the score.
The Pirates took the lead in the eighth on Mike LaValliere's two-run single. In the bottom half, though, Danny Cox and Bob Patterson each walked a batter, so manager Jim Leyland summoned Belinda. Four pitches later, Dave Hollins' three-run homer scored Kruk and Amaro to give the Phillies a 7-6 lead.
McClendon singled in the ninth, then took second on Mitch Williams' balk. Bell tripled to tie the score, and Van Slyke's single put the Pirates up by one.
After the Phillies intentionally walked Jeff King to get to Belinda, Leyland sent him to the plate, and he drove in an insurance run with a single to center.
"[Leyland] did some things that seemed to work," Wehner said. "He had a reason for everything he did."
Belinda shut down the Phillies in the ninth, the Pirates won, 9-7, and moved one game closer to their NL East championship.
Neither Wehner nor Bell remembered the specific game, but they remembered the success over those three seasons and the postseason opportunities they had.
"To be honest with you, it's all about playing that extra month of the season," Bell said. "If you can get yourself in a position to play that extra month, that's what we strive for."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG.