By Dejan Kovacevic, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, August 12, 2011
MILWAUKEE — There's no Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge or Statue of Liberty. No, the monument of note in this city's center is a bronze statue of "The Fonz," commemorating the iconic sitcom "Happy Days" that was set here. The hair is greased back, the leather jacket loose, both thumbs up in a permanent state of cool.
The Brewers have some of that, too, considering they're one of baseball's hottest teams.
Nyjer Morgan, the former Pirates center fielder who uses the alias "Tony Plush" for no good reason, told me Thursday that he's "cooler than a polar bear's toenail." Prince Fielder, the megaslugging first baseman, accepted my thanks for an interview at the All-Star Game last month by replying, "Cool, baby." Even mustachioed mascot Bernie Brewer, with his 12,432 Twitter followers, is a little cool.
They begin a three-game series Friday night at Miller Park, and I'm sure they would love to douse first-place Milwaukee on the heels of taking two of three in San Francisco from the defending World Series champions.
But, wow, this could have been so much more.
"Aw, man, are you kidding?" Morgan said. "Buccos and Brew Crew with the whole baseball world looking on? It's just kind of a shame what happened over there."
No kidding. If it seems like only a couple of weeks have passed since the Pirates were looking down on Milwaukee in the Central Division, rather than 10 1/2 games upward, that's because, hey, it was! Then the Pirates plunged further and faster out of first place than any team in history and thus arrive in Milwaukee yet again in the role of patsy.
Or is that Potsie?
For those needing a refresher:
» The Pirates have lost 33 of their past 36 at Miller Park, dating to the start of 2007. That includes a 22-game losing streak that was the longest between any teams in baseball since 1969.
» In those 36 games, Pirates pitchers have a 6.61 ERA and have allowed 59 home runs.
» That run would be even worse if not for Ryan Doumit belting ninth-inning home runs on back-to-back days off all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman last season. What were the odds?
» Overall in the past five years, the Pirates are 17-51 against the Brewers, including 0-5 this season.
» The 20-0 loss to the Brewers on April 22, 2010, at PNC Park was the worst in the Pirates' century-plus of existence, and it was part of a four-game run in which Milwaukee outscored them, 53-4.
Whatever you do, don't call this a rivalry. A rivalry takes two.
And maybe that underscores what the Pirates realistically could accomplish this weekend.
Already, Clint Hurdle and his players have blown through obstacles that hadn't been approached in 18 years. They were above .500 for 39 days. They were in first place for a week. They had three All-Stars. They packed people into PNC Park, and they drew enough national attention that poor Fox is now stuck airing the matinee here Saturday.
Time was, the only national press the Pirates could get in Milwaukee was for clubbing human sausages.
This is still different.
This is still a chance to check another item off the Pirates' list, maybe one of the most imposing they face. Let's remember how the Pirates of the 1980s didn't find their stride until they started beating the mouthy New York Mets. Or how the Penguins needed to end that epic 42-game, 15-year drought in Philadelphia. Or how the Steelers' dynasty took off after reversing a 9-32 history with the Cleveland Browns.
Few things are more therapeutic for a perpetual loser than to vanquish a nemesis, especially one that's disliked as much as the Brewers are — hello, Ryan Braun — by many in the Pirates' clubhouse.
Look at it emotionally, courtesy of Doumit: "Yeah, it would be nice to do well against that team. That's an understatement."
Or analytically, courtesy of general manager Neal Huntington: "It's tough to be one of those very good teams if there's anybody taking it to you. If you're 10 games under against one team, you're going to have a hard time being 10 games over .500 overall. I want to see it on the flip side, where we're taking it to somebody instead of them taking it to us."
Yeah, these Pirates would be a game over .500 if they were 5-0 against the Brewers.
Maybe someone can thump that jukebox back to life this weekend