Despite Their NLDS Loss, the Pittsburgh Pirates Are a Breath of Fresh Air

Joe Giglio@@JoeGiglioSportsContributor IOctober 10, 2013

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Pedro Alvarez #24 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts in the dugout after their 6 to 1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Five of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 9, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates are gone, eliminated from the postseason by an excellent St. Louis Cardinals team, but their gritty effort won't soon be forgotten.

After 21 years of baseball frustration ended during one magical summer in the city of Pittsburgh, fans should look at the 2013 group as a breath of fresh air for the present and a glimpse into bigger things starting in 2014.

According to the Associated Press, via ESPN, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle seems to agree, and he looked back on the 2013 season very fondly: "We were able to take a huge step forward this year in restoring the pride and the passion of the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization, and rebonding our city with a ball team."

Almost everything in sports is measured by wins and losses, but the 2013 Pirates transcended that. When spring training begins at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., the talk won't center around 94 victories, 97 if you include the postseason, or a run differential of plus-57.

Instead, for the first time in over two decades, fans will gather to watch a historic franchise continue a stark rise back up baseball's ladder of success.

A foundation was laid by Andrew McCutchen's MVP-caliber campaign, Gerrit Cole's rise from prospect to elimination-game starter, Francisco Liriano's career revival and a postseason crowd that will be remembered as game-changing. 2013 was unexpected, but it put forth the ground work for bigger and better things for a franchise that hadn't experienced even a .500 season since 1992.

During the heat of October baseball, it's easy to forget the losers on the path to a title, but this Pittsburgh team should be different.

Think about it: Unless you are a fan of the team that won a World Championship recently, can you name all of the teams that were eliminated in the LDS over the last decade or so? Unless you either cued up or have fond memories of the 2006 Padres or 2007 Cubs, the answer is likely no.

Yet this Pirates team feels different. They competed all year with St. Louis and Cincinnati, brought a home playoff game to PNC Park, showed zero fear in taking on one of the most successful teams of all time in a five-game series and ultimately bowed out to one of the best pitchers in the entire sport.

Too often, professional sports centers around narratives. From the broadcaster attempting to cement a point or writer looking for a column angle, certain facts are omitted, while others are enhanced.

For the 2013 Pirates, fluff isn't necessary.

They were a fun team to watch, cover or root for since Opening Day, regardless of the type of baseball fan you are.

The team had it all: MVP candidates (McCutchen), league-best power bats (Pedro Alvarez), young, flame-throwing prospects (Cole), Comeback Player of the Year candidates (Marlon Byrd, Liriano), hometown heroes (Neil Walker), nasty bullpen mates (Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli), and a pair of players either unwanted or too expensive for the richest team in the sport (A.J. Burnett, Russell Martin). 

After 162 regular-season games and six postseason contests, the Pirates provided all of those things to the 2013 baseball season. As the spring rolled into summer, they became a story. As the summer became fall, they became part of the fabric of the sport.

In years past, the Pirates were irrelevant from the moment pitchers and catchers reported for spring training. This year, their games mattered all season long. In October, they gave a better team everything it could ask for.

It took 21 years for the Pirates to get back to October after Sid Bream crossed home plate in October of 1992. That winter, their MVP outfielder, some guy named Barry Bonds, fled to greener pastures in San Francisco. This winter, their MVP outfielder isn't going anywhere after signing a long-term extension to stay in Pittsburgh through at least the 2017 season.

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 06: Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates a double in the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Three of the National League Division Series at PNC Park on October 6, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pen
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

With an excellent pitching staff set to return, possibly with the addition of top prospect Jameson Taillon, the Pirates will be back in October before long. If their inclusion in the postseason becomes a regular occurrence, baseball fans will look back to the refreshing roster of 2013 as the turning point for a franchise that so desperately needed one.

How will you remember the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates season?

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