It's over, Bucco fans. The clock has struck midnight and the Cinderella Pirates have been thrown from the pumpkin coach—tattered, torn and tousled.
What great fun it was, dancing at the Mid-Summer Ball with all of the Central Division royalty. How nice it was to forget who they really were for a while.
And, oh, how it ended so suddenly.
Reality has finally set in—with a resounding thud.
The Pirates have now lost a season-high eight games in a row and have fallen to three games below .500.
The pitching staff that carried them to the top has begun to fail them.
When the smoke cleared at the end of Friday night's game vs. the San Diego Padres, they'd given up 15 runs, nine of them by ace Jeff Karstens. They've now surrendered an alarming 14 home runs in just the past four games.
The Pirates, despite shelling the Padres for 15 hits of their own, managed just five runs, stranding 16 runners along the way. Pirates hitters were 4-for-17 with runners in scoring position and they individually posted an astonishing 27 LOB.
Pedro Alvarez grounded into three consecutive double plays and accounted for eight LOB by himself alone.
The game was a microcosm of all the recurrent problems plaguing the team rolled into one during their free-fall: a poor outing by a usually reliable starter, a couple of untimely errors, a lack of run production with runners in scoring position, a struggling bullpen and a couple of pesky bad bounces.
The Pirates' problems are too great and too numerous to be resolved quickly enough to make a run at the top. It would take everything to come together all at once and immediately. In fact, it is now legitimately questionable as to whether the Bucs can even recover to finish the season at .500.
It's hard to believe that the Cincinnati Reds, with a much more talented team, have yet to pass the Pirates into third place. It's seemingly just a matter of time.
And it's the lack of time, as well as the lack of talent, that is working against these Pirates.
Perhaps they'll get an invitation to next year's ball, but there will be no storybook ending to the 2011 season.
When it comes to the Cinderella Pirates rising to become division champions, the shoe simply doesn't yet fit.