It has been 21 long years since Game Seven of the 1992 National League Championship Series, arguably the most exciting finish to a postseason game in baseball history. Sid Bream slid into home plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium just in front of the throw from left-fielder Barry Bonds (who had moments earlier given center-fielder Andy Van Slyke the middle finger for having the audacity to tell him to play more shallow in an attempt to cutdown the potential winning run) to send the Braves to the World Series. The loss was the Pittsburgh Pirates' third straight NLCS setback. It was heartbreaking at the time, but got even more painful as the years passed.
That was the Pirates last playoff game, until tonight, when Pittsburgh hosts the Cincinnati Reds in the National League wild card game.
Since that devastating defeat in Atlanta more than two decades ago, Pirates fans have been to hell and back. They were forced to watch their prized core of Bonds, Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla, Doug Drabek and manager Jim Leyland all leave via free agency. Then the losing started and snowballed out of control. Pittsburgh endured 20 consecutive losing seasons until this year, each seeming more painful than the last.
Baseball fans in this area can empathize with what Pirates fans had to suffer through. The Philadelphia Phillies went 14 years in between playoff appearances from 1993 to 2007 while the Baltimore Orioles had to wait 16 seasons for their postseason drought to finally end last year.
Consequently, both fan bases understand the excitement coursing through Pirates' fans' veins right now. October baseball is special anytime it involves your team, but when you haven't had the chance to experience it in some time it brings out raw emotion rarely caused by sports.
It would be criminal for Pirates fans to have waited this long to get back to the postseason only to have it snatched away after just one game. That's the prospect that stares Pittsburgh directly in the face however, as tonight's winner marches on to the NLCS, while the loser's season is over. How could anyone be rooting for that to happen to some of the most long-suffering fans in sports?
The simple answer is: You can't. Everyone outside of Ohio is pulling for the Buckos to get it done. Only time will tell if they can do it, but either way, Pirates patrons are just praying it isn't their last peak at meaningful baseball until another 20 years from now.