Lundblad: Some Sox-Pirates storylines

Not the Same Ol’ Pirates?

The Boston Red Sox may be playing for a title in 2011, but the Pittsburgh Pirates have pride on the line.

In 1992, Pittsburgh finished 96-66 and lost to Atlanta Braves in the NLCS. That year, a 26-year-old rookie named Tim Wakefield took the NL by surprise, going 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA. Despite making just 13 appearances, he finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Meanwhile, Barry Bonds, just 27, won his second MVP in three years.

Then, Bonds left for San Francisco.

The Pirates haven’t posted a winning record since. With 18 straight losing seasons, they hold the longest streak ever in the four major sports.

Right now, the end is in sight. Through 74 games, Pittsburgh is 37-37. A year ago at this point, the Pirates were 25-49.

Just last week, they were actually two games over .500, a position to which they could return by winning two out of three this weekend. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the latest into a season that Pittsburgh was two games over .500 since 1999 (40-38).

Though Pittsburgh sits in fourth place, they are just three games back of the lead in the NL Central. For most teams, that position in June means very little. But for the Pirates, it’s the latest into a season they’ve been within three games since September 1997.

Last season, the Pirates’ starting pitchers combined for a 5.28 ERA, highest in the majors. This year, much of the same group now has a 3.74 ERA, 10th best in the majors.

This is the third interleague series between the Red Sox and Pirates. But in each of the previous two (2003 and 2005), Pittsburgh was already stuck in reverse, on its way to another losing season.

The last time Boston faced a Pirates team at or above .500? The 1903 World Series.

Wakefield’s Return to Pittsburgh

On Saturday, nearly 18 years after he last stepped to a mound in Pittsburgh, Wakefield returns to the city where he started his career.

On September 30, 1993, Wakefield tossed a shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies. It would be his final start with the Pirates. He spent the 1994 season toiling in the minors. The Pirates gave up on him in April 1995, and he’s been with the Red Sox ever since.

Now, 6,476 days later, he returns to Pittsburgh to start Saturday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one pitcher in MLB history has had a longer period between his final home start for one team and his first road start against that team.

Jamie Moyer made his final start for the Chicago Cubs on October 2, 1988, and didn’t return there as an opponent until August 22, 2006. At 6,532 days, he edges Wakefield by just 56.

Though it will be his first trip back to the Steel City, it won’t be the first time that Wakefield has faced the Pirates. In 2005, he pitched seven shutout innings, but Boston’s offense didn’t provide a single run of support. Alan Embree wound up taking the loss, as the Pirates won 2-0.

Interestingly, Wakefield actually has a 20-inning scoreless streak going when pitching in Pittsburgh. His tenure in Pittsburgh ended with back-to-back shutouts at home in 1993.

Red Sox-Pirates Connections

In addition to Wakefield, several notable players have worn both a Red Sox and Pirates uniform.

Tony Pena played 801 games with the Pirates before his 543-game stint in Boston. He’s the only one with 500 or more games for both franchises, though Mike Easler and Dick Stuart topped 300 in both places. Boston acquired Easler from the Pirates after the 1983 season for pitcher John Tudor, who was the NL Cy Young runner-up in 1985 with the Cardinals.

Perhaps the most notable recent example is Jason Bay. Only he and Stuart had 45 home runs for both franchises.

Only one pitcher has 50 wins for both franchises. Jesse Tannehill went 116-58 for the Pirates from 1897 to 1902. He then spent 1903, the year Pittsburgh and Boston met in the first World Series, with the New York Highlanders. Following that season, he was traded to the Red Sox, where he went 62-38 over five seasons.