Doing it in the best possible place, on the field of play, the Pirates put an emphatic end to the talk they might collapse in the final weeks of the season and at the same time reasserted themselves as a team that can win the NL Central Division with a win yesterday over the Texas Rangers. The victory gave them a sweep of the series against what is one of the elite teams of MLB.
Anyone still questioning the Pirates or how they might finish the season needs to question, if not their sanity, their baseball knowledge.
For those still doubting, and willing to admit it, know this: The Pirates are not going to be caught for the final wild-card berth by the Washington Nationals or the one-time skeptics' favorite, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The only doubt left in this season for the Pirates is whether they will finish first, second or third in their division. Regardless, that finish will put them in the postseason for the first time since 1992.
With the additions to the team in late August, specifically Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau, the Pirates are a match for the St. Louis Cardinals or Cincinnati Reds. It's just a matter of which teams plays the best in the final days of the season.
Skeptics love to spend times dwelling on the Pirates weaknesses and, no question, they have some. But so do the Cardinals and Reds.
With outfielder Starling Marte getting close to returning to the lineup and starter Charlie Morton likely not to miss a turn with a foot injury, the Pirates are healthy and ready to make a run at the title.
Their next eight games are at home, where they are 45-25, and against San Diego, 55-78 and 20 games under .500 on the road, and the Chicago Cubs, 62-83 and four games under .500 on the road. There are no guarantees in MLB, but the Pirates are positioned to put themselves in a good place in the next eight days.
But with the Pirates and Reds set to play six more games against each other, the Cardinals clearly have the easiest schedule.
When the Pirates lost three straight to St. Louis over the weekend, the skeptics were out in full force proclaiming that a collapse was at hand and that the Pirates were in position to be caught for the final wild-card berth. The sweep of the Rangers makes such thinking look foolish. There is next to no chance of the Pirates being ousted from a postseason position and they have a good chance of winning the division or, at least, having home field for the wild-card playoff game.
Morneau had four hits and Byrd two in the 7-5 win over Texas in which the once standout Pirates bullpen continued to show cracks. The Pirates scored twice in the seventh to take a 6-2 lead, a margin that once would have turned the game into a laugher. But the Rangers scored three times in their half of the seventh against starter A.J. Burnett and reliever Jeanmar Gomez.
Bryan Morris got the final out in the seventh, but when he put two runners on in the eighth, Vin Mazzaro had to come on to get the final two outs. Kyle Farnsworth, a late-season acquistion familiar with pennant-race baseball, pitched the ninth in 1-2-3 fashion as manager Clint Hurdle had announced in advance of the game that closer Mark Melancon would have the day off.
A home run by light-hitting shortstop Clint Barmes produced the Pirates final run.
The win was yet another assertion by the Pirates that they are a legitimate contender. It is perfectly undertstanable, even this late in the season, that there would be doubt about this team. As is well known, the Pirates have collapsed, and spectacularly so, in both of the past two seasons after displaying contender ability.
But the collapse has never come this season. The team has risen to every challenge and perhaps none greater than their most recent. After being badly outplayed in St. Louis, swept and outscored, 26-10, the worst, understandably, was expected at Texas where the talent-rich Rangers were struggling to stay close to the Oakland Athletics in the AL West Division.
But although they had as much or more to play for than the Pirates, the Rangers were matched or surpassed at every turn. Of particular note was the fact the Pirates got exceptional to good starting pitching in the series, starting with the superb performance by Gerrit Cole in a 1-0 win in the opener. Francisco Liriano and Burnett were not up to that level, but both pitched well and better than they had in some recent poor starts.
Seventeen games remain in the Pirates season, four against the Padres, seven against the Cubs and six against the Reds. Any one of the three Central Division contenders could come away with the title and the playoff bye that comes with it.
The Cardinals, with a one-game lead over the Pirates and three over the Reds, are the clear favorite because of their easier schedule. But the Pirates, significantly upgraded once Marte returns, are used to being given little chance. A division title might not be likely, but nor is it unlikely