The Pittsburgh Pirates Have a Really Great Opportunity to End the 2021 Season On a High Note


(Sam Greene/Cincinnati Enquirer)

The Pittsburgh Pirates have 19 games remaining in their 2021 schedule.  They are not even close to making a push for a playoff spot, nor can they fall far enough to get the first overall pick in 2022.  They are stuck in a limbo situation where their games at this point do not particularly matter.  However, the Pirates have one thing they can still accomplish.  The Pirates play the Cincinnati Reds 9 of the Reds last 18 games and could play a large part in keeping them out of the playoffs.

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I am a petty man.  When it comes to sports, I hold grudges.  Once you have wronged a Pittsburgh sports team once, I root against you regardless of your opponent.  In the case of the Cincinnati Reds, they have wronged us far more times than just once.

The Rivalry Begins

The rivalry between these two teams started in 2012.  The Pirates were unknowingly about to begin one of their best several season stretches in over 20 years.  Andrew McCutchen was batting against Aroldis Chapman in an early August game at Great American Ballpark.  At a blazing 101 miles per hour, a fastball from Chapman drilled McCutchen directly in the middle of his back.

McCutchen did not flinch, nor show any pain.  He simply stared down Chapman, threw his shin guard toward the Pirate dugout, and jogged to first base.  What McCutchen could not have known at the time is that this would spark a rivalry that still exists today. 

Fast forward to the 2013 National League Wild Card game.  The Pirates were facing off against the Reds in the Bucs' first playoff game in 19 seasons.  Reds fans thought they had the game locked up with ace Johnny Cueto on the mound. 

Among chants of “Cueto, Cueto, Cueto”, the opposing pitcher was rattled to the point of dropping the ball on the PNC Park mound in the middle of his stretch.  He then gave up a city shaking homerun to Pirate catcher Russell Martin that essentially sealed the win for the Pirates.  It was one of the biggest sports events in recent Pittsburgh history and really kept the rivalry fire alive.

The Rivalry Explodes

In 2019, the rivalry again brought with it some fireworks, but in a different way.  Well known “tough guys” Amir Garrett and Yasiel Puig tried to fight the entire Pirates dugout in a game at the end of July.  According to Reds manager David Bell, former Pirate reliever Keone Kela had thrown at the head of Cincinnati’s Derek Dietrich.  Amir Garrett retaliated, starting a bench clearing brawl.  Garrett charged at the Pirates dugout with Puig right behind him.

(Sam Greene/Cincinnati Enquirer)

I have never been a fan of Puig or Garrett.  Puig has perennially underachieved despite being one of the biggest trash talkers at the time he was in the league.  He is no longer on a major league roster.  

Amir Garrett on the other hand is constantly referred to as a “bad man” nobody wants to mess with, despite having a career ERA of 5.09.  He is performing even worse this year with a 6.18 ERA.  I guess to disguise their ongoing struggles on the field, they both wanted to get in the spotlight for something other than baseball.

Three Series To End the Reds

Anyway, among those described above and several other events that have gone on between these teams, the hatred remains.  I imagine the classic cliché of “No love is lost between these teams” will be uttered several times in the next few weeks by Bucs broadcasters.  As much as I hate that cliché, it is certainly true in this case.

The Reds come into this series against the Pirates tied with the San Diego Padres for the last wild card spot in the NL.  They are also just one game up on the St. Louis Cardinals.  

I hate the Cardinals as well, but that is more of a jealousy hatred.  I can’t wrap my mind around how they are just always good, and seemingly have three levels of starters on their depth chart every season.  However, nothing like the magnitude of the events that have taken place in the rivalry between the Pirates and the Reds have taken place against the Cardinals.  Plus, the real prize would be the Pirates knocking out the Reds in place of the Padres taking that last spot. 

I will be paying close attention to these three Pirates series.  The first one starts tomorrow for three games at PNC Park, with the final game on Thursday.  Then the Pirates travel to Miami for a series against the Marlins before taking on the Reds in Great American Ballpark for three more games.  The Pirates then finish their season with a final series at home the first three days of October.  

Since the Pirates do not have much to play for themselves, it’d be a nice high note to end the season on if they can knock out their biggest rivals.  I hope we sweep the Reds 9-0, but I’d take 6-3 as well if it puts the Padres ahead of them for the last wild card spot.