PITTSBURGH -- The Streak, the one that loomed over the Pittsburgh Pirates for two ignominious decades, is dead. Over. Done. Discarded. Smashed by an improbable summer and a thrilling fall.
Unburdened from the yoke of failure that loomed for 20 years as an ominous cloud over the franchise, the Pirates can point to the future with eyes wide open.
What exactly the future holds, however, remains unclear.
In a way, the man who shrewdly guided the franchise from 105-loss laughingstock three years ago to a 94-game winner that pushed the St. Louis Cardinals to the brink in the NL division series knows the easy part is over.
"The sustainability is what separates great organizations," Manager Clint Hurdle said. "We were able to take a huge step forward this year in restoring the pride and the passion of the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization, and rebonding our city with a ball team."
The evidence lay in the signature Jolly Roger flags that came out of hiding across the city after spending a generation tucked away like an abandoned family heirloom. It could be seen at packed PNC Park, where record crowds -- most of them wearing black -- poured through the turnstiles in the playoffs and made baseball matter again in a city where it has long played distant third fiddle behind football and hockey.
It could be felt in a clubhouse comprised of young talent and established veterans unbowed by the club's miserable recent past. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen cemented his status as a star with an MVP-worthy season. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez tied for the NL lead in home runs with 36. Rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole illustrated his electric 100 mph fastball. Catcher Russell Martin helped turn a pitching staff that looked like a question mark in March into a dominant force in September. Jason Grilli, aging reliever thrust into the closing role for the first time, became an All Star and the emotional center of one of baseball's best bullpens.
When asked to describe the success of left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano -- who revived his flagging career by going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and becoming the de facto ace down the stretch -- Hurdle said Liriano "has a lot of Pirate in him." Pressed on what exactly that means, Hurdle stumbled upon an ethos that resonated from the front office down to the bat boys.
"In the movies that I've watched and the books that I've read, there seems to be a spirit of I really don't care what anybody thinks anymore, I'm crossing the line, I'm going to become a Pirate," Hurdle said. "It's not about mom or dad or brother or sister, not about where I used to work. I'm going to be my own man. I'm going to hope to latch on to a bunch of other men who feel the same way, that are like-minded, and try to get something special done."