This is how we learn to love and hate. This is how we develop affection and fear. This is how legends are born.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, playing their biggest series of the year in their most important season since 1992, needed some wins. The Pirates entered Monday's series against the Cardinals with a 9-15 record in August and five losses in six games. They'd dropped two games behind the Cardinals for the second wild-card berth, and after Monday's loss fell three games back. Their magical season was slipping away, fans getting that anxious feeling of desperation when we break out in sweat over every home run allowed or missed scoring opportunity, the dream turning into a nightmare.
Pedro Alvarez to the rescue. Whatever happens the rest of his career -- maybe he'll hit 30 home runs a year for the next decade, maybe he'll go back to hitting .191 -- Pirates fans will always remember these two games in late August and what he did against the Cardinals in 2012.
Especially if the Pirates somehow end up making the playoffs. If that happens, then you can guarantee Cardinals fans will long remember Pedro Alvarez as well.
Ask Cardinals fans about Ryne Sandberg in 1984. Ask Mets fans about Chipper Jones in 1999. Ask A's fans about the years of George Brett destroying them.
Alvarez has absolutely hammered the Cardinals this year. To fans in St. Louis, they must think they're seeing the reincarnation of Willie Stargell, a burly slugger launching mammoth home runs that no park can hold. On Tuesday, Alvarez went 4-for-5 with two home runs and four RBIs in Pittsburgh's 9-0 victory, including the longest home run by a Pirates player in PNC Park history, a 469-foot blast that drew a rousing curtain call (here's the awesome video of that home run, including the reaction of an Alvarez look-alike in the stands). Wednesday night, he went 2-for-4, including a three-run homer off Joe Kelly that gave the Pirates a 4-0 lead. The Pirates won 5-0 and now they're one game back of St. Louis. Yes, give credit to James McDonald and Wandy Rodriguez for two gems in shutting down the National League's top offense, but these games will be remembered for Pedro's power.
This isn't the only damage Alvarez has inflicted upon the Cardinals. In the 19-inning game Aug. 19, it was Alvarez who hit the go-ahead bomb in the 19th (here's the video of that one, including a great reaction from his wife, Kelli). In a 7-3 victory on June 30, he hit a first-inning grand slam off Lance Lynn. The day before that he drove in four runs in a 14-5 victory. On May 3, he had two hits, including a go-ahead, two-run homer. On April 21, he drove in both runs in a 2-0 Pirates win.
Man, talk about owning a team. For the season, Alvarez hit .389 against the Cardinals with seven home runs and 20 RBIs in 15 games. The Cardinals are done with Alvarez on the Pirates for 2012 ... unless the teams meet in the playoffs, of course.
With Andrew McCutchen hitting just two home runs in his past 40 games, Alvarez has become the biggest threat in the Pirates' lineup. There's a lot of swing-and-miss to his game (144 strikeouts), but when he connects the ball goes a long, long way. After a disappointing 2011 in which he hit below .200 and was sent back down to the minors, we're seeing again why scouts loved the power potential that made him the the second pick in the 2008 draft (just ahead of Eric Hosmer and Buster Posey, among others). His 26 home runs now rank tied for the fifth in the NL (here's a fun blog entry of his first 25 home runs).
We have a lot of baseball left. The Cardinals still have to rate as the favorite to beat out the Pirates for the second wild card (the Braves are 2.5 games ahead of the Cards), and the rejiggered Dodgers are just a half-game behind Pittsburgh.
But you can put away those Steelers jerseys, Pirates fans; it's still baseball season in Steel City and you have a new hero to root for. And Cardinals fans have a new enemy to fear.
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