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Perrotto: Might This be a Magical Pirates’ Season?

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Edward Olivares, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — If there is reason to pump the brakes on the enthusiasm surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates’ hot start, one doesn’t have to look far into the past to find it.

The Pirates started last season by winning 20 of 28 games. Yet they finished with a record of 76-86.

A hot start can evaporate quickly in baseball. Thus, the instinct is to suggest that fans should not get too emotionally invested in these 2024 Pirates.

The Pirates are 8-2 after rallying in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday at PNC Park. The Pirates could easily go 2-8 in their next 10 games and be right back at .500. It’s part of the nature of the sport.

Yet a vibe is developing for the Pirates even this early in the season.

They already have three extra-inning victories in 2024. That equals their total from 2023.

The Pirates scored twice in the ninth inning on Sunday to win after beating the Orioles 5-4 on Oneil Cruz’s 11th-inning RBI single on Saturday. It marked the first time the Pirates had walked off the same opponent in consecutive games since beating the Milwaukee Brewers on Aug. 3-4, 2022.

History suggests that close wins even out over time. However, the Pirates seem to have something special going on.

They showed that Sunday as they went into the ninth inning trailing the Orioles 2-1. They loaded the bases with no outs, but Rowdy Tellez grounded into a force out that cut down the potential tying run at home plate.

Edward Olivares then hit a bounding ball up the middle. Shortstop Gunnar Henderson made a diving stop, touched second base with his glove for the force out but then threw wildly to first, failing to complete a game-ending double play.

Two runs scored. Just like that, the Pirates had a one-run win instead of a one-run loss.

“It is beautiful, the results the last couple days,” Olivares said. “It’s an example of the team playing together, and playing good baseball.”

Veteran left-hander Marco Gonzales, who allowed two runs in six innings on Sunday in his first start for the Pirates at PNC Park, has played in the major leagues for 10 years. He understands the meaning of wins like the two over the weekend.

“It does a lot for our confidence, especially as a pitcher, knowing that our offense is going to come through swinging,” Gonzales said. “Just being able to keep it close in games like that, I think it just gives us confidence. I think we’re just playing loose right now. We’re having fun. No one here is under too much stress. We’re all just enjoying the process right now.”

There is no pressure on the Pirates. Though management said throughout the offseason and spring training that it expects to field a contending team this season, there are no expectations outside the organization.

Most baseball people think the Pirates won’t threaten for a playoff spot until next season. In 2025, more of their pitching prospects should have reached the major leagues to join rookie sensation Jared Jones in the starting rotation.

Yet those good vibes the Pirates are experiencing now feel real. I can’t quantify it – sorry Statcast worshippers – but I can sense it after covering Major League Baseball for 37 years.

“They just keep playing,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “I think we’ve seen with this group is that they play 27 outs, 30 outs, 33 outs, whatever it takes. I give them a lot of credit because they don’t give up.”

Maybe the magic won’t last. But it sure feels like it could.

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