The Pittsburgh Pirates do take clinching a playoff berth for granted, but they have also bigger goals.
Players did not pop champagne after securing their third straight playoff berth Wednesday in Colorado. No plastic covered the locker room. No goggles were needed, nor were players wildly jumping in celebration with the fizzing, white bubbly drink spraying all over.
Instead it was just their usual postgame high-fives on the field after beating the Rockies 13-7, followed by a low-key champagne toast in the locker room. They were all wearing their new gray shirts with the text “2015 Postseason is ours” along the chest and were taking pictures together. It is a well-deserved celebration they held Wednesday, before going back to business as usual on Thursday.
Pirate fans should know how hard making the playoffs in baseball is after watching their club not qualify for them from 1993-2012. Now they’ve made it three straight years, only the Los Angeles Dodgers (who are likely to clinch a spot but have yet to) and St. Louis Cardinals, along with the Pirates, are the only teams to make it the last three years.
The club’s wild celebration after clinching a postseason berth in 2013 was not misplaced. Instead it signified the end of the worst stretch for a team in Pittsburgh sports history this side of the 1933-1971 Steelers. They had just come off two seasons in 2011 and 2012 where in August they were in position to make the playoffs, just to collapse and fade. Before that was the 2010 Pirates, who lost 105 games and the thought of a playoff berth wasn’t even taken seriously.
Now, they are acting like a team that has been there before: happy, but not complacent, as was shown with the Pirates come-from-behind win over the Rockies on Thursday.
A playoff berth alone is no longer the goal, and the players do not appear satisfied yet. They should be happy and cherish it — who knows when they will be back again — but there are bigger goals to be had, and their standing in the playoff has yet to be determined.
With the Pirates still in contention for the NL Central division title and the Chicago Cubs charging hard behind for the top Wild Card spot, there is little time for a prolonged celebration. And with a third straight Wild Card Game appearance likely on the horizon, the Pirates need to progress further in the playoffs than last year’s one-and-done exit that saw the celebration come to an abrupt end.
The Pirates have one of the best rosters in baseball. They have a manager that has been in the World Series. The camaraderie in the locker room is perhaps the best in the game. They have the second best record in baseball. The tools are there for them to go far in the playoffs, and now the Pirates need to make it happen. A playoff berth, while impressive and worthy of celebration, is now just another bump in the road.
It is true the Pirates have the unfortunate luck of being in the same division as the Cardinals just based on their geographic location – they would be leading any other division in baseball. But part of the reason the Cardinals have been so successful in the playoffs is because they expect to make a deep run.
And given the Pirates’ recent success, it is time for them to adopt the same mentality; their celebration Wednesday suggests how much they have grown as a team. They are expecting more, while still not taking another trip to the playoffs for granted, signifying how much this team has grown.
Now it is time to focus on making a deep playoff run a reality.
Photo credit: @Pirates