Ron Cook: As bright as Pirates' future looks, no guarantees beyond tonight

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Go back to Oct. 11, 1992, Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the Pirates and Atlanta Braves at Three Rivers Stadium, the most recent postseason baseball game in Pittsburgh. When Pirates starter Bob Walk threw his 128th pitch and got Mark Lemke to bounce out to first baseman Gary Redus to conclude a three-hitter in a 7-1 win, no one thought it would be nearly 21 years before there would be playoff baseball here again. Heck, the Pirates thought they were going to play at least a couple of World Series games here that year despite trailing the Braves, three-games-to-two, in the series. They blew out the Braves to win Game 6 in Atlanta, led Game 7, 2-0, in the ninth inning and ...

You know how that sad, sad story ended.

There is a lesson there.

Take nothing for granted. Realize how lucky you are to watch the Pirates play the Cincinnati Reds tonight at PNC Park in the National League wild-card game. You know, better than anyone, this kind of October baseball doesn't happen every year. Enjoy every second.

Maybe it won't be another 21 years.

But maybe ...

Let's be positive this morning. I like the Pirates' chances to beat the Reds and move on to the National League Divisional Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Francisco Liriano was almost unbeatable at PNC Park this season. The Pirates are confident behind him. "I like our guy on the mound," manager Clint Hurdle was saying Monday.

The Reds like their guy, too. Johnny Cueto has owned the Pirates, especially at PNC Park. But he has started just two games since coming off a long stay on the disabled list because of a strained lat. If he can outpitch Liriano, the Reds will win. But I need to see proof. At this point, I'm with Hurdle. I like Liriano.

Actually, I like the Pirates' chances not just tonight but deep into the playoffs. The starting pitching is that good. The lineup showed up big time during the team's sweep in Cincinnati over the weekend. There's no reason to think Andrew McCutchen and Justin Morneau -- especially McCutchen -- won't do more in October than they did down the stretch. It was great to see Jason Grilli get a meaningful save Friday night against the Reds. He and eighth-inning specialist Mark Melancon have to be huge in the postseason.

These Pirates are good enough to win it all. Yes, the World Series. They have as much chance as any of the 10 teams still standing.

OK, that's where my optimism ends.

I hear everyone from the Pirates brass to average fans say the organization is positioned to be good for a long time. I can't go there. They might win 94 games again next season, but they also might lose 90. The Washington Nationals won 98 games last season and were lousy most of this season. Go back even further. Hurdle's Colorado Rockies won 90 games in 2007 on their way to the World Series. They won 74 in 2008 and started 18-28 in 2009 before Hurdle was fired.

To quote Joaquin Andujar, a wise baseball mind:

Youneverknow.

It won't be the same Pirates next season. Who knows if they'll be good or bad? But, certainly, they will be different. A.J. Burnett has talked of retiring. Even if the Pirates can do a new contract with him and he comes back, he will be 37. Morneau and Marlon Byrd will be free agents and aren't likely to be re-signed. Chances are Clint Barmes won't be back. You laugh at his weak offense, but good luck replacing him. Jordy Mercer might play defense at second base well enough to be on a championship club, but it's hard to see him as an everyday shortstop. Players will get hurt. Others' production will drop off.

Then, there's Pedro Alvarez. Sooner rather than later, the Pirates are going to have to make a tough decision on him. He is looking at three years of salary arbitration after this season before he can become a free agent. Do you have any idea how much money that will translate to for a man who hit 36 home runs with 100 RBIs this season? It would be great if the Pirates can do a long-term deal with Alvarez, buy out his arbitration years and a few of his free-agent years the way they did with McCutchen. I'll feel better about their future if they do that -- the team needs his incredible power -- but I'm not sure it's going to happen. There's a better chance Alvarez will be traded after next season or 2015.

There's another lesson there.

There are no guarantees in life or sports. There are no guarantees for next season and beyond. The only guarantee is tonight.

"We're going to put something out there that will bring a lot of joy to a lot of people," Hurdle said.

Enjoy it.

Enjoy every second.

pirates - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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