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The B (ird) List: 7 things to know before the Pirates walk the plank to St. Louis

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 3, 2013 - Update: Pitcher Adam Wainwright led the Cardinals to a decisive 9-1 win over the Pirates in NLDS Game 1 at Busch Stadium Thursday. Carlos Beltran's 3-0 home run highlighted a seven-run third inning that knocked Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett out of the game. The Cards cashed in on 10 hits and three Pirates errors. Here's a link to the play-by-play.

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Well, Cardinal Nation, we’ve got some prepping to do.

If you missed that National League Wild Card game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh Tuesday night here’s all you need know: The Pirates sent the Cincinnati Reds down the plank in the early innings, while their revved up fan base screamed maniacally every time a baseball was thrown, hit, caught or bit the dust. You’d think that 6-2 victory was the best thing those fans had seen in decades.

It was.

This is the first time in 21 years that the Pirates have made it to the postseason.

Think about that for a while, Cardinal Nation.

And about this: During those two barren decades in Pittsburgh, the Cards made it all the way to the National League championship series eight times.

To borrow a line from my daughter (who sent me this text Friday night after the Cards clinched their first National League Central Division title since 2009):

"It's been a long four years. Luckily, that World Series in the middle helped keep us going."

That said, here are a few things Cards fans might keep in mind, as they await Game 1 of the Division Series Thursday afternoon at 4:07 p.m. at Busch Stadium. (The game schedule can be found below this story.)

1. Know thy foe.

That Andrew McCutchen fella is quite the All-Star for the Pirates, with pundits predicting that he’ll outdistance Cards catcher Yadier Molina for MVP. If you haven’t followed McCutchen’s career, Bruce Keidan of Pittsburgh Quarterly wrote a fine profile on the centerfielder a few summers ago that is still worth a read.

That was McCutchen's mom, Petrina McCutchen, singing the National Anthem at the Wild Card game Tuesday night. She’s done it before at PNC Park; click here for a video. 

And the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an interesting interview with Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano after his lights-out performance Tuesday night.

2. Know thy foe’s fans.

To put it mildly, the Buccos fans have embraced the postseason. Their first target: Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto who seemed caught off guard when the Pirates fans started chanting his name in the second inning: “Cueeeee-tooo! Cueeeee-too!”

For many Cards fans, watching at home, it was a moment to savor. (Who's forgotten that Cueto The Cleater gave Cards catcher Jason LaRue a career-ending kick in the face during a 2010 melee in Cincinnati?) 

On the other hand, Cards manager Mike Matheny will have to find a way to prepare whichever Cards rookie pitcher is picked to pitch Game 3 for the awaiting din in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Matheny has announced that ace Adam Wainwright will pitch Game 1 and Lance Lynn has Game 2 in St. Louis.

After the Wild Card win, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told Mike Bauman of mlb.com that the sell-out crowd of 40,487 fans -- most wearing Pittsburgh black and gold -- deserved credit for showing up so loudly:  "We're a perfect snapshot of our city," Hurdle said. "We're resilient. We're gritty. We're not perfect. If we get knocked down, we're going to get up. If we get knocked down again, we're going to get up again. We're going to continue to fight for what we believe in.”

Longtime Cards fans will remember that Hurdle played one season -- 1986 -- with the Redbirds.

On the other hand, the wife of Reds pitcher Mat Latos claims she was punched by an overzealous Pirates fan during the game. If true, that’s just plain ugly. The Pittsburgh police, though, called it "much ado about nothing."

3. Know thy foe’s fans’ lucky charms.

The Rally Squirrel of 2011 might or might not make an appearance on the field at Busch this postseason, but it’s a given that the lucky varmint will return on postseason fan wear.

For their part, Pirates fans seem to have adopted the Jolly Roger as a symbol this postseason – in place of a series of odd lucky charms through the years, including a green weenie (you can’t make something like that up), babushkas and the Zoltan. They’re all detailed on a fun little website called PopularPittsburgh.com.

4. Mascots with feathers.

From the looks of things, Fredbird should be able to handle the Pirate Parrot, Pittsburgh’s mascot since 1979.

5. Show some respect.

Cardinal Nation will always have the late great “Stan The Man” Musial. A World Series championship would be a fitting way to honor the legend’s passing last January.

For Pittsburgh fans, the legend is Roberto Clemente, the son of a Puerto Rican sugarcane worker who helped pave the way for Latinos in the major leagues. Clemente died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, on his way to deliver supplies to survivors of an earthquake in Nicaragua. He was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1973 and posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. If you don’t know much about Clemente, there’s a good multimedia package about the baseball star on bio.com.

6. Take a breath.  Waino’s on the mound.

Our ace. Our mound. That home field advantage for the Division Series opener is looking good right now.

Wainwright, of course, is no stranger to postseason pressure. Jenifer Langosch, who writes for MLB.com, produced a nice profile on Wainwright the other day that details how his big brother and mom helped mold him into the standup guy and standout athlete he is today.

7. Cardinal Nation has rally towels, too. And the red sea knows how to use them.

They can call it Buctober in Pittsburgh all they want, but it’s really Red October  -- again -- in the Gateway City. To be sure, there is already talk about this being the magical season for the Pirates, and they'll be the favored ones with many Major League Baseball fans. But let's not forget who put the "wild" in Wild Cards: the never-say-never, come-from-behind crew that roosts in St. Louis.

Remember Game 6?


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