Diary of a long-suffering Pirates fan: Game #9. Walk it off, baby. We're back in first place.

First win of the season against a quality team
Baltimore Orioles v Pittsburgh Pirates
Baltimore Orioles v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

In 2023 the Pirates got off to a great start in April, winning 20 games and losing only 9. They were in first place on April 30th.

But an 8-18 record in the month of May would derail the Pirates season. While poor starting pitching was the main reason for the May swoon, so too was the Pirates schedule. During May of 2023 the Pirates played four eventual playoff teams--The Toronto Blue Jays, The Baltimore Orioles, The Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Texas Rangers. They also played Seattle which just missed making the playoffs in 2023. All told, against these playoff teams plus Seattle, the Pirates went 4 wins and 14 losses.

So, naturally, when the Pirates lost to the Orioles in the home opener, a part of me went, "Uh oh. Not again. We never seem to be able to beat the good teams. Not even at home."

And so when the Pirates walked off the Orioles today in extra innings, a feeling of relief and exhilaration washed over me. "We can beat these guys," I thought. "It took 11 innings, but we beat them."

While the game was filled with drama and edge-of-your-seat moments, it was also filled with errors, blown saves, and untimely hitting on the Pirates part. The exhilaration part came from winning a game that had the look and feel of an ugly Pirates loss. The kind of loss we Pirates fans have grown accustomed to over the years and decades.

Staked to a 3 to 0 lead, the Pirates bullpen was unable to protect that lead. Ryder Ryan gave up two runs in the 7th. And David Bednar allowed a run in the 9th to send the game to extra innings.

As a result, Bailey Falter, the Pirates starter, did not get the win. He would have been the winning pitcher if the bullpen had been able to preserve the 3 to 0 lead they inherited. But they didn't. And that is a shame for Falter, who pitched a magnificent game and deserved better. He pitched 6 innings and gave up only one hit. The one hit was a pop fly that didn't get caught because of a miscommunication between Pirates second baseman, Alika Williams, and centerfielder, Jack Suwinski.

When Pirates fans last saw Baily Falter pitching, he gave up five runs to the Miami Marlins in the first inning. So with Falter facing the vaunted Baltimore Orioles lineup, expectations for a favorable outcome to this contest were not high.

But those edge-of-the-seat moments that followed the blown save were something to behold. The oddsmakers attempting to compute the win probabilities of each team fluctuated like a ping pong ball. After Bednar retired the first Orioles batter in the 9th, the Orioles win probability was at 8.7%. But when the next three batters reached base safely and the Orioles had tied the game and had runners at 2nd and third and still only one out, the Orioles' win probability increased to 68%. But when Bednar managed to pitch out of the jam--thanks to a great play by Cruz who backhanded a ground ball and threw to the plate to get Ryan O'Hearn at the plate--the Orioles win probability dropped to 21.5%

But when the Pirates failed to score in the 9th, the win probability for each team went to 50%

But then the Orioles scored a run in the tenth, and that sent their win probability to 59.3 percent.

But the Pirates tied it up in the bottom of the tenth. As the inning unfolded the Pirates probability of winning kept rising. It started at 40.7% at the beginning of the inning. It peaked at 93 percent after Edward Olivares walked with the bases loaded to bring in the tieing run. And so the Pirates had the bases loaded with nobody out. But somehow the Orioles were able to pitch out of that jam and in so doing, the Pirates probability of winning then retreated from 93% back to down to 50%.

When the Pirates retired the Orioles in the 11th with 0 runs, their probability of winning went from 50% to 81%. But after Ke'Bryan Hayes was robbed of a game winning hit by a diving catch by center fielder Cedric Mullins, the Pirates win probability decreased to 69%. And for a brief period of time, Pirates fans felt the weight of decades of losing upon them. "Oh, npo," I thought. "That catch will save the day for the Orioles. It will be celebrated by Orioles fans. The Orioles come back again to win. Mullins saves the game with a diving catch." Oh, the humanity of being a Pirates fan. You can't help but think negative thoughts.

And then glory be. Before those negative thoughts could even take root, Oneil Cruz put the world and the oddsmakers right. His single to right field scored Henry Davis from second base with the winning, walk-off, 100% probability victory. As the former Pirates announcer Bob Prince used to say, "We had 'em all the way!"

It was a glorious victory. A victory that had Pirates fans giving out a collective sigh of relief.

It's still way too early to tell, but this game points to evidence that there will not be a repeat of last year's 4-14 debacle against American League playoff contenders.

And with Milwaukee's loss tonight, the Pirates are back in first place with a record of 7 wins and 2 losses. First place. A fellow could get used to that position in the standings.