ARLINGTON, Texas -- All bad things must come to an end.
The Pirates clinched a winning season, their first in 21 years, with a 1-0 victory Monday night against the Texas Rangers, putting an end to a two-decade stretch of ugly baseball that turned one of the game's most celebrated franchises into one of the most ridiculed.
With their 82nd win this season, the Pirates (82-61) are assured of a winning season for the first time since 1992, but the team celebrated the milestone in understated fashion.
Mark Melancon pumped his fist after the game's final out, which is as excited as anybody got in the Pirates dugout. Manager Clint Hurdle didn't address the team after the victory, and clubhouse conversation focused more on fantasy football than 82 wins.
Now they have their sights set on a National League Central Division crown -- they trail the St. Louis Cardinals by one game with 19 games remaining. At the very least, the Pirates are in good position to secure a playoff berth for the first time since 1992.
"It's probably more important to me than anybody in this room, but -- I don't mean to beat a dead horse -- it's just a steppingstone in the direction we're trying to go as a team and as an organization," said second baseman Neil Walker, a Pittsburgh native who, fittingly, assisted on the final out of the night.
Not everybody in Arlington was as subdued in their enthusiasm. One Pirates fan was arrested after he stormed the field following that final out.
Gerrit Cole, the team's first-round draft pick in 2011, pitched magnificently at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to earn the win. He was 2 years old when Sid Bream slid home safely at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta to beat the Pirates in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, the first of many losses since that traumatic night.
Since then, the United States launched two wars, impeached a president, sent a spacecraft to Mars and made Miley Cyrus -- who wasn't even alive the previous time the Pirates had a winning season -- a star.
The Pirates, meanwhile, moved into a new stadium, changed owners twice, employed seven managers and five general managers and lost 1,857 games.
And along the way were such lowlights as "operation shutdown," when outfielder Derek Bell planned to take it easy if he was forced to compete for a starting spot; "Sausagegate," when Randall Simon was arrested after hitting a costumed, running sausage with a bat; a 20-0 loss to the Brewers; and two 100-loss seasons.
"It's awfully nice after so many years to finally finish above .500," said hitting coach Jay Bell, who played for the Pirates from 1990-95. "But we're not looking to be mediocre. I talked to the players the other day in a team setting, and I said, 'We've talked about '90, '91 and '92, but we failed. We failed to get further than the NLCS.' "
Though it is over, it is still the longest streak of non-winning seasons in North American pro sports history, outdoing a 16-year stretch of futility set by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1930s and 1940s.
Cole struck out a career-high nine batters in seven shutout innings, besting Rangers ace Yu Darvish to lead the Pirates to their milestone win. He allowed three hits and walked two batters to improve his season record to 7-7.
"I don't think I'm able to fully understand it," Cole said of the 82nd win. "I don't know if there's anybody that doesn't live in Pittsburgh that fully understands it. Since I came up in June, I can count on one hand the number of times I haven't seen the ballpark sold out. We all know it's special to them."
It was another former high draft pick who supplied the offensive spark.
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez drove in the go-ahead run with a two-out double in the seventh, scoring Marlon Byrd from second base to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead. Alvarez, Cole, Walker and Starling Marte are among the young group of stars who have teamed with resurgent veterans A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Russell Martin and Jason Grilli to put the Pirates in this position.
Perhaps none have been more impactful than 2005 first-rounder Andrew McCutchen, an MVP frontrunner for a second consecutive season, who went 2 for 4 with a triple Monday to increase his hitting streak to eight games and increase his batting average to .324.
The victory was a long time coming in more than one way for the Pirates. The win snapped a four-game losing streak -- tied for the Pirates' longest drought this season -- since they earned win No. 81.
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published September 10, 2013 2:30 AM