Felix Pie (26), Marlon Byrd (2) and Andrew McCutchen celebrate their 4-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
by Genaro Armas
AP Sports Writer
MILWAUKEE (AP) – Toast them with a bottle of Iron City. Wear that 1970s-era Pittsburgh painter’s cap with pride. Celebrate the end of “The Streak.”
Just don’t expect the Pirates to join in the fun. There’s an NL Central title to win.
The Pirates ended their 20-year run of losing baseball Tuesday night, reaching the 81-win mark with a 4-3 victory at Miller Park.
“I’ve won 81 games before, and this team is going to win more than 81 games. A lot more,” newly acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd said before Wednesday night’s game at Milwaukee.
Win No. 82 will have to wait.
The Pirates lost 9-3 in game interrupted for a couple minutes in the fifth after Brewers starter Wily Peralta (9-14) plunked left-handed cleanup hitter Justin Morneau in the forearm following Andrew McCutchen’s 19th homer of the year.
Morneau slowly walked to first and gestured to Peralta. The benches emptied and relievers scurried in from bullpens as far as short right and left, but the umpires quickly took control and the teams never got close to making physical contact.
McCutchen and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke each defused the situation afterward. McCutchen said he was looking for the ball after hitting his homer and wasn’t trying to show up Peralta; Roenicke said Peralta wasn’t trying to plunk Morneau, but he understood why the Pirates first baseman got upset.
The determined Pirates showed some spunk.
“It’s about changing the culture, and they’ve done that the past two years,” Byrd said before the game. “This was inevitable that this team was going to get to this point.”
Easy for him to say. He recently joined the club, obtained from the Mets in a deal to bolster the lineup for the playoff push.
Second baseman Neil Walker, on the other hand, is a little more passionate. He grew up in Pittsburgh and still lives in the Steel City.
Walker was bombarded with messages on his Twitter account Tuesday night.
“To be part of this group that has righted the ship, per se, in the win column is pretty significant. I don’t think anybody is going to admit that too much in here just because baseball players are so superstitious,” Walker said.
“But the fact that I’ve lived and breathed Pirates baseball since I can remember, being a baseball fan since I was 5 or 6 years old, it holds a little more significance to me.”
Left-handed starter Francisco Liriano (15-7) gave up seven runs, seven hits and two wild pitches in three innings Wednesday. Trailing 7-3, the Pirates loaded the bases in the seventh to bring up the tying run with two outs, but reliever Donovan Hand got John Buck to fly out to right-center to end the inning.
All-Star closer Jason Grilli, in his first appearance since July 22 after coming off the DL for a right forearm strain, allowed a hit and struck out two in the eighth. Manager Clint Hurdle liked what he saw, calling Grilli’s velocity “firm.”
The Pirates took a one-game lead over the Cardinals into a three-game series in St. Louis. Cincinnati was 3½ games back after a 16-inning loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday night.
Pittsburgh is aiming to finish first and avoid a best-of-one matchup between wild cards.
“We are trying to win every day. Every game is important from the first to the last, so we don’t treat it any differently from any other game,” said about the upcoming series against the Cardinals. “We go out every day to win. That is what we are going to do in St. Louis.”
No matter what, at least the Pirates don’t have to answer any more questions about the drought.
In western Pennsylvania, “The Streak” made one segment of fans miserable. Others viewed the franchise like lovable losers, the “Bad News Bears” of sorts of the majors.
The Pirates went 20 years, 11 months and 26 days since they last had 81 wins in a season.
More perspective on the two-decade run of misery since 1992:
-The Pirates were 1,374-1,796 during the streak for a .437 winning percentage.
-The Penguins and Steelers had seven losing seasons combined during that period.
-The franchise went through three ownership groups and seven managers, including Hurdle.
The skipper said he was humbled by all the messages that he had received.
“And they’re not from my buddies. They’re actually from people that we’ve come to know in the North Hills (suburbs) and the city of Pittsburgh that have reached out,” he said. “The emails and texts are quite meaningful.”
After the game Tuesday, Hurdle said he was especially happy for the family of Roberto Clemente, the late Hall of Famer who wore No. 21.
“They told me earlier in the season that we can’t have 21 losing seasons, that we’ve got to find a way to not have Roberto’s number tied to that,” Hurdle said. “I told them we’d find a way to take care of that. It’s been taken care of.”
The Pirates seemed loose before Wednesday’s game, but there were no cases of champagne waiting on ice. No trophy in another room waiting to be presented in a pregame ceremony.
Outfielder Travis Snider, whose pinch-hit homer in the ninth led to Tuesday’s win, talked fantasy football. Others watched the ever-present baseball highlights on the big-screen TVs.
McCutchen, the Pirates’ MVP candidate, put it best. He posted a simple message on his Twitter account shortly after the Pirates got win No. 81.
“Keep going …”
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
Follow Genaro Armas at https://twitter.com/GArmasAP