For Pittsburgh Pirates fans Oct. 14, 1992 was a day that would change everything for the next 21 years. It was a day that would lead to 20 years of pain and heartache for one city.
The Pirates had a 2-0 with one out when Doug Drabek came to the plate. He had tossed a gem, giving up six hits, one walk and no runs in eight innings. Drabek’s pitch count was at 120, a high amount, especially since it was his third start in eight days. Manager Jim Leyland let the right-hander bat because the bullpen was the teams weakness.
Drabek struck out. Lloyd McClendon walked and advanced on a wild pitch. Jay Bell grounded out, failing to bring the run home.
Failing to capitalize in the previous inning, Drabek and the Pirates took the field in the bottom of the ninth.
Terry Pendleton doubled into the right field corner, and the Braves fan exploded. Then David Justice hits a hard, but routine, ground ball to second baseman Jose Lind, one of the best defensive players in the game. He booted the ball and the Braves had runners at the corners. Drabek was drained and walked Sid Beam on four pitches.
Leyland had enough and called upon the bullpen. Stan Belinda recorded an out when Ron Grant flied to left. Then pinch-hitter popped out. The Pirates were just one out away from the World Series, a feat they last achieved in 1979.
Francisco Cabrera came to the plate. It was just his 13th appearance of the season.With a 2-1 count, Belinda delivered a fastball to Cabrera. He drilled it into left. Barry Bonds, picks the ball up and throws it home. The throw is too far left and Bream scores as the Pirates fall 3-2. Bonds kneels on one knee, shaking his head. It was the last time he would dawn a Bucs uniform. After a few minutes, Bonds jogs to the dugout, but Andy Van Slyke remained in center field, shocked.
The rest is history. The Pirates never made it back to the post season. In fact, they never had another winning season. Fans watched players get traded away. They sat through 100 loss seasons. They were the joke of baseball for the next 20 years.
On Tuesday night, the Pirates fans got the moment they had been dreaming of for two decades when Francisco Liriano led them past the Cincinnati Reds 6-2 in the NL Wild Card game at PNC Park in front of the largest crowd ever.
Postseason baseball was back in Pittsburgh and it was everything it was suppose to be plus some.
Some fans watched from the Clemente Bridge beyond center field. A Jolly Roger flag hung proudly over the Allegheny River.
“It was awesome. Everything we thought it would be,” Neil Walker said. “There’s no doubt the crowd was a 10th man tonight. We saw how important that home-field advantage was.”
Liriano set the tone and second-inning homers by Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin rattled Johnny Cueto as 40,487 raucous fans let their voice be heard for the first time since Bream slid under Mike LaValliere’s tag.
Liriano needed only eight pitches to retire the side in order in the first, 12 more to do the same in the second and had tossed 27 pitches after three perfect innings.
The roars of the crowd drowned out the introduction of the Reds, then they took it up a few dozen decibels when the Bucs trotted out to the third-base foul line. When it seemed as if they couldn’t get any louder they did.
With Johnny Cueto at center-stage the fans made him the target. Chants of “Cueto!” “Cueto!” filled the stadium soon after Byrd’s leadoff homer.
The teasing of Cueto might have gotten to him. He let the ball drop out of his glove to the ground, which caused the fans to get louder. Then Martin took Cueto’s next pitch into the left-field seats and PNC Park grew deafening.
Pedro Alvarez then made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly. Cueto would surrender one more run in the third before Reds manager Dusty Baker removed him after a Starling Marte double.
Batting right-handed, where he struggled all year, the hometown kid Walker belted a drive high off the left-center wall. Another run scored later in the inning when Brandon Phillips muffed Byrd’s potential inning-ending double-play grounder into an RBI forceout.
Tony Watson came on in the eighth and surrendered a solo home run to Shin-Soo Choo. Watson regained his composure and retired the next two batters, setting the stage for closer Jason Grilli.
The fans saved their last, and loudest, cheers for the “Grilled Cheese” as he got Zack Cozart to ground out to second base for the final out.
For the second time in eight days, their was a champagne celebration in the Pirates locker room. Hurdle stood in the center and players doused their coach with sparkling apple cider.
It was the happy ending Pirates fans yearned for since that October night in Atlanta. The road is far from over for the Pirates, but for one night, the city of Pittsburgh and their team celebrated at least one more time during their magical season.