A lot has been written about this particular game over the past few days; especially after AT&T Sports Net’s airing of the game for all to see on Tuesday Night and the subsequent showing of the game on MLB’s #OpeningDayAtHome Thursday Morning on @MLB Las Mayores and Twitter. Hell, the Pirates even have a link to the full game on YouTube on their Twitter feed if you want to go watch it again; I have! Each time I watch it I am transported back to my apartment in Moon Township. Pacing the living room, drinking way too many IC Lights and having a few nervous smoke breaks on my patio; watching the game through the sliding glass doors, not wanting to miss a minute. I still get goosebumps with every Cueto chant from the “black-out” crowd at PNC Park. Then with a drop of the baseball, the crowd is in hysterics. Russell Martin sends them even further into a state of pure pandemonium as he crushes Cueto’s next pitch into a sea of Left Field Loonies! Ok, I just got chills again. The rest of the game is a mix of joy, disbelief, elation, satisfaction and pride. This was my team! My Pittsburgh Pirates, on the National Stage had sent the rival Reds packing and we were on to St. Louis!
This game is one of my most cherished memories in Pittsburgh Sports Fandom, if not the most. However, as I got to thinking about this one game, this one moment in time, I started remembering the rest of the season; all 162 games that proceeded this One Magical Night. It was much different than the offensive exhibition that Russell Martin and company put on that night. It was a season of defense and good pitching, which as we all know Liriano put on full display that night. It was a season of shifting and the Sinker. For the most part it was “small ball” at its finest.
Now granted the Pirates did combine for 161 Home Runs that season. However, this was only one of a couple major batting categories that they were above league average in; 14th to be exact and only 6 Homer Runs above the median. The other was OPS+, which is a stretch as a major category; and they finished 11th and a fraction higher (3) ahead of the middle of the pack. In any other category they were ranked near or in the bottom third; including runs (20th/634), batting average (22nd/.245) and on base percentage (19th/.313). The were a league average slugging team with a percentage of .396. The Pirates also struck out more than all but 5 other teams during the 2013 season. And to top it all off one of the heroes of this game Russell Martin had a total of 15 other Home Runs throughout the entire season and batted .226. Martin and many others contributed in other ways during the Pirates 94-68 campaign; especially defensively.
For the year the Pirates ranked 3rd in all of Major League Baseball in Defensive Runs Saved (45), lead by Martin with 21 and and Starling Marte with 18. Even the oft defensive challenged Pedro Alvarez stayed in the black with a 2 DRS. As a team the Pirates also ranked 8th in Double Plays with 154; which means anytime opposing teams got players on the base paths, Clint Barnes and Neil Walker quickly erased them. The only area they struggled in defensively was errors committed. Their 106 miscues ranked 9th amongst big league clubs, but the made up for this by ranking first in assists with 1924; almost 100 better than the closest team and nearly 600 better than the worst. Each of these strengths led to many more wins than any stroke of the bat or trip around the bases.
The other area in which the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates excelled in was Pitching. As a staff they ranked 3rd in the league with a 3.26 team ERA (not one regular starter had an ERA over 3.59), 9th in Strike Outs with 1261, 7th in WHIP to the tune of 1.233 average and stranded 1158 runners, good enough for 5th in the league. As far as the relief pitchers were concerned, the nailed down almost every single close game the Pirates were in that year. Jason Grilli, Mark “The Shark” Melancon and company combined for 52 saves and in the process accounting for over half of the team’s victories that year. As a staff, they all pitched clean and consistent innings on a regular basis and when any did get on they were more than likely stranded.
Now I know that none of these numbers are as sexy as the National League leading 36 Home Runs that Pedro had that year; because we all know that “chicks dig the long ball”. And they aren’t as exciting as the 3 Home Runs hit that night; including the 2 by Martin. However, they tell a truer story of how the Pittsburgh Pirates got to that point and were put in a position to compete for a World Series Title for the first time in forever. They are the reason we as Pittsburgh Pirates Fans got to stand up and cheer for our team on the One Magical Night in 2013.