Collier: It's another historic Wednesday for the Pirates

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Had to be a Wednesday, did it?

Twenty-one years in exile from baseball's championship tournament, a spot in the National League Championship series just nine solid innings away, and the Pirates draw a Wednesday.

So what?

So nothin', most likely; it's just that some of the most appalling moments in Pirates history share a common quirk -- they all happened on a Wednesday in October.

The Sid Bream-Stan Belinda-Francisco Cabrera-Barry Bonds thing, that was a Wednesday in October.

The Bob Moose-George Foster-Hal McRae-Clemente's last baseball game on earth thing, that was a Wednesday in October.

Yankees 12, Pirates 0 in Game 6 on Mazeroski Eve, a Wednesday in October.

Dodgers 12, Pirates 1 in a 1974 NLCS elimination game, that was ... yeah.

But all that was then, and all this is wow, and for a Pirates franchise once so far lost in its own pathologies it might never have found a way back, a night like tonight in St. Louis is so fantastic the fan base almost has to welcome the real prospect of abject heartache.

Would you rather take your 57-105 record and just recommence the labor of the leaves?

The fact is, this unexpected Pittsburgh postseason has been all but bereft of the singular, stinging disappointment endemic to October baseball and its immutable law of relevant emotions: The deeper you go into it, the more excruciating the exit.

Unless ...

The 6-2 wild-card victory last week against the Cincinnati Reds on the North Shore barged its way into the city's sports lore alongside our most compelling historical episodes. The 2-1 loss Monday against the St. Louis Cardinals, the one that prescribed this particular Wednesday in October, might have been unpalatable, but no one could contend the Pirates deserved better. The blowout loss to St. Louis in Game 1 was a laugher, and thus not so much a crier.

So count your blessings.

Funny though, that 9-1 Cardinals win at the start of this division series might go down as the most impactful game of the five, because it removed A.J. Burnett from the deciding game, at least at its start, the Pirates brain trust having finally decided it doesn't like the way Burnett pitches at Busch Stadium.

They liked him fine last Thursday, but a seven-run third inning casts a long shadow.

Gerrit Cole, age 23 years and one month and one day, will face the Cardinals tonight in Burnett's stead, with everything on the table. Just about every student of the 2013 Pirates, serious and otherwise, is cool with this.

But it's not a no-brainer.

"It's a very hard decision," said manager Clint Hurdle. "It's a difficult decision because [Burnett] has meant so much, we've asked so much of him while he's been here. A.J. wants the ball every day he's scheduled to pitch. That's one of the things that's gotten him to the point, this point in his career and having success that he's had.

"You want to treat men professionally. Sometimes, we don't agree on things."

Two minutes after that, Hurdle was returning to his office when he encountered Burnett walking the other way in the concourse outside the locker room. Neither man looked at the other, Burnett staring down at his phone as he walked in what was either a snub or, more likely, your standard cell-phone etiquette. Five seconds after that, Cole emerged from the same portal Burnett had just gone through and trailed him toward the exit.

I wonder if the Pirates will regret that that's no longer the order in the rotation.

Cole, in less than four months in a Pirates uniform, has emerged as a pit bull of a competitor. He's validated as such. But if Cole has a teammate more ferocious than he, that teammate is Burnett. That Burnett has eight times the postseason experience of Cole, the great majority of it in the unparalleled heat of a New York Yankees uniform, somehow doesn't count for much right now.

Either way, the Pirates cannot extend this miracle without a surge of offense, particularly the muscular version exemplified by Pedro Alvarez. Since the beginning of the 2012 season and including these playoffs, no one has tortured Cardinals pitching worse than Alvarez -- 12 homers and 37 RBIs.

Alvarez is the first Pirate to drive in runs his first five postseason games, and the first since Willie Stargell in 1979 to hit at least three homers in one postseason.

His third homer of this series was the only hit the Pirates managed Monday.

I'm pretty sure it's going to take more than one hit tonight. It's going to take more like 10.

That kind of thing is nowhere near impossible. These Pirates have proven they can win, that they can win on the road, and that they can win in a highly charged atmosphere. Win tonight, and they'll have completed their first successful postseason series since the night they won the World Series in Baltimore in 1979.

Oh and, yeah, that, too, was a Wednesday in October.

pirates - genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com. First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM


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