On Tuesday afternoon I was sitting in my office and I had a thought. “I should go to Pittsburgh for the NL wild card game.” I’m not a Pirates or Cubs fan, but I just wanted to be in the stadium. As a Reds fan, I’m still haunted by the “Cueto game,” but even watching that, I could tell playoff games in Pittsburgh were special. I spent some time writing about the Cubs/Pirates matchup last week and I started to get really excited. Arrieta vs. Cole, two of the three best records in baseball, two fan bases desperate for playoff fortune, and an incredible baseball atmosphere. Why wouldn’t I want to be there? So I made the call to my wife and after some convincing we bought our tickets (it was such a better trip with her there). Wednesday morning we got up and made the 6 1/2 hour drive to Pittsburgh.
Needless to say the drive from Indiana to Pittsburgh was less than exciting. There wasn’t much to see driving through Ohio. There wasn’t much to see the fifteen minutes we spent in West Virginia. Somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania she asked me, “Will the atmosphere be better than the Marlins game we went to this summer?” Yeah, I was confident it would be. We arrived in downtown Pittsburgh about an hour and a half before the game, and the atmosphere was incredible.
Even with this game being hailed as “the most anticipated baseball game in history” (yes, a Pittsburgh talk show said that) it was really easy to find parking and get in the stadium. If you ever have the chance to go to PNC Park I wholeheartedly recommend it. We approached the stadium and encountered a sea of black shirts. There was loud music playing and it was a party atmosphere outside the stadium. People were really amped up for this game. The Pirates were coming off a wild card game loss last year to Madison Bumgarner and the Giants, and the fans were determined to ensure the same thing didn’t happen this year.
Once in the ballpark we headed up to our seats. When I say we headed up, I mean we went way up. Honestly, I just wanted to be in the ballpark. We bought the cheapest seats we could find that weren’t standing room only. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there really isn’t a bad seat in PNC.
The park was already about half full, and by the time of the first pitch it was packed. There were more Cubs fans than I expected, but the Pirates fans were loud from the get go. It was hard not to get caught up in the atmosphere. With apologies to my fellow Reds’ fans, I found myself swinging my “Let’s go Bucs” towel over my head and chanting along with everyone else.
It was easily the best baseball atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of, and then Jake Arrieta happened. I’ve never seen one player suck the life out of a stadium quite like he was able to that night. The fans were a little deflated when Dexter Fowler scored in the first, but as the game went on it became apparent that Arrieta was going to be his dominant self, and I think people knew it could be a long night.
The most memorable moments of the night though had to be several fan interactions I witnessed:
- As I mentioned there were quite a few Cubs fans at the ballpark. Early in the game, most of the Pirates fans were still standing and they were still really loud. With the Pirates up in the first the Cubs fan in front of me reached forward, put his hand on a Pirates fan, and yelled, “Would you sit down so I can watch the game!” I really didn’t anticipate this ending well. However, the Pirates fan just sat down. He didn’t turn around. He didn’t say a word.
- With Arrieta on cruise control one of the most exciting moments of the night might have been in the stands. Across the aisle from me was a loud, confident, and somewhat obnoxious Cubs fan. When anything good happened for the Cubs, he let the Pirates faithful know about it. He mimicked out calls when Pirates hitters struck out. He jumped up and celebrated with fellow Cubs fans whenever they scored. For most of the first few innings, he was loud and brash in a “not safe for a family environment kind of way.” After the Schwarber home run he really got going. While most of the Pirates fans around me simply dropped their heads, one of them had enough of this guy. He turned around and started marching up the stairs toward the guy with an angry look in his eye. He stood in front of the Cubs fan, yelled a few NSFW words, and smacked him in the face. We were all expecting a fight and some fans started calling for the usher. However, the Pirates fan simply raised his hands, looked at the usher and said, “Yeah yeah I’m leaving.” And that was it.
Most of you watched the game so I won’t spend time recapping it. The fans were taken out of it for the most part, but they were given new life in the 6th. The Pirates found a way to load the bases with Starling Marte coming to the plate. Unfortunately for the fans, Arrieta induced an inning-ending double play and that was that. The Pirates wouldn’t threaten the rest of the game. Outside of the scuffle when Arrieta got hit, there wasn’t much more action. In a game that was hyped and billed as one of the biggest ever, it was a one man show. Arrieta sucked the life out of a team and over 30,000 fans over the course of three hours. There was nothing they could do. We were helpless bystanders.
On my way out of the stadium I saw something that will stick with me for a long time. The Cubs fans in attendance were celebrating and singing. However, I walked by a kid sitting by himself. He couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. He was just sitting silently, flipping through the game program with tears coming down his face. I haven’t felt that way about a baseball game in a long time, but it brought back so many memories of my childhood. It brought back memories of when baseball was all that mattered. It brought back the days of living and dying with the fate of my team. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, this is a team that just had their most successful season since the 70’s, and it’s going to feel like a disappointment.
On Wednesday night PNC Park, the fans, and the atmosphere were great. Unfortunately for them, Jake Arrieta was just better.
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