Cabrera comes to the plate. It’s his 13th at-bat of the season and a surprise addition to the postseason roster. He takes two balls and then drills a gimme fastball foul into deep left. The replay catches Cabrera, watching the ball go foul, scream “fuck me!” to himself. Then Belinda — pitching to a man who walked 13 times in more than 300 at-bats in Triple A that season — gives him another grooved fastball. He doesn’t miss this one. He hammers it into left. Base hit. Barry Bonds, about to touch the ball for the last time as a Pittsburgh Pirate, picks it up and wings it home. The throw is too far left. Bream, who hit 57 homers as a Pirate, scores. Bonds stays in left field, on one knee, shaking his head, by himself, for about two minutes while the Braves celebrate. He then stands up and jogs to the Pirates dugout. Andy Van Slyke, in center field, remains sitting out there, dumbfounded.
The Pirates have not been worth anything since October 14th, 1992. 7062 days of misery for Pirates fans after Bream slid and Bonds bolted. In June and July, the Pirates were actually in contention for first place in the NL Central and the elusive .500 mark that they had not reached in 18 years. The Pirates were actually buyers at the July 31 trading deadline and acquired first basemen Derrek Lee and outfielder Ryan Ludwick from the Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres, respectively.
The Pirates were coming off of a 57-105 last place finish in 2010. That season was so horrendously awful that Bobby Crosby and Ryan Church were actually on the team for longer than a week. Akinori Iwamura was the starting second baseman for months. They were on pace for a record of 85 wins and 77 losses, a 28-game improvement. That would have been the best improvement for a last-place team since the Minnesota Twins won 95 games in 1991 en route to winning the World Series. But then, Jerry Meals said it was safe. The Pirates went into a 19-42 freefall after that to bring their record to 72-90, a 15 game improvement.
15 wins may seem like a ton, but it was actually below-average. Since 1965, the average improvement for a last-place team has been 17 wins. That is including some large outliers, such as teams finishing last in consecutive years and teams improving 20 or more games, but most teams improve around 17 wins. The Pirates were 2 games, or 12% below the average improvement for a last-place team, which is unacceptable.