PITTSBURGH — At this point in the regular season, the Pittsburgh Pirates are usually playing in front of sparse crowds at PNC Park, especially once the Steelers start their season just down the road.
That wasn’t the case over the weekend.
Sure, it was the New York Yankees in town, and there were plenty of fans wearing pinstripes in attendance, but PNC Park housed around 30,000 fans for each game of the weekend series in Pittsburgh.
It’s been a while since the Pirates last reached the playoffs, eight years to be precise. Only the Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers have gone longer without playing in the postseason.
With fall weather in the air and engaged fans in the stands, it was a little taste of what playoff baseball would look like again in Pittsburgh.
“That was the message Shelty had for us after the game: That’s a playoff environment right there,” catcher Jason Delay said. “That’s a situation that we want to be in moving forward. Obviously, we have a lot really young (players), a lot of rookies in this clubhouse. For them to get that exposure and get that experience it’s going to go a long way next year.”
Delay was responsible for driving in the winning run for the Pirates in their 3-2 win over the Yankees on Sunday afternoon. His clutch hit drew a large roar from the crowd.
Prior to first pitch on Sunday, general manager Ben Cherington said on his radio show on 93.7 The Fan that he feels this team is capable of competing for a playoff spot in 2024.
Manager Derek Shelton echoed his belief in his team.
“Yeah, I share the same sentiment,” Shelton said. “You feel the crowd there. That’s an end of the season, you’re in competition mode. All three games man, our fans were into it, got after it. So, I think we’re seeing the really good guts of a good core that’s going to be able to compete.”
It helps, too, that the Pirates put a horrid loss from Friday and a lackluster performance on Saturday in the rearview mirror and came back to salvage the series.
Wins like that when it would be easy to let things snowball are key, especially for a team as young as the Pirates.
In the win on Sunday, the Pirates had four rookies in their lineup and another one on the mound in Colin Selby, who was used as an opener and pitched two scoreless innings.
“I think bouncing back like that definitely gives us confidence going forward,” Jared Triolo said. “Just knowing that we were able to have a tough game like that and be able to come back and salvage this last game of the series was great for us.”
It’s that young core that has given the Pirates the belief that they have a shot to be competitive for the first time in a while next year.
Since Cherington took the reigns as GM in 2019, the Pirates have been mired in a rebuild which included back-to-back 100-loss seasons.
After consistent losing, the Pirates are playing better baseball with the young wave of prospects helping to pave the way.
In their last 55 games, the Pirates have compiled a record of 29-26. Their win on Friday was their 70th, the first time they hit that total since 2018.
Sure, it’s still not good enough. But it’s at least progress.
“I think that’s the most important thing. We talked about it the other day… The most important thing is this is a group of guys that we feel that we can build with and continue to go with and compete with. The fact that they’re being able to get this many reps for an extended period of time is really important for us.”
It won’t happen this year. It may not even happen next year. But, whenever a return to the playoffs happens, the Pirates got a sneak peak into what it could look like over the weekend.