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Bucs have first winning season in 2 decades

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - The last time the Pittsburgh Penguins were a winning team at the end of a season, Barry Bonds was the slugger in the middle of their lineup, and Doug Drabek was the ace of a rotation that included a rookie knuckleballer named Tim Wakefield.

That was the Pirates, circa 1992, when the average cost of a gallon of gas was $1.13 and they had a winning season - until now.

``It's a sports town, a blue-collar town. They love guys that work hard, but they also want their winners,'' said outfielder Marlon Byrd, one of the newest Pirates. ``They've been waiting a long time for this. We're giving this city something to cheer about, and it's big.''

The Pirates earned their 82nd victory, ensuring their first winning record in 21 seasons, with a 1-0 victory Monday night at Texas against Yu Darvish. That came after a four-game losing streak, and being swept in three games at NL Central-leading St. Louis, since No. 81 last week.

For long-suffering baseball fans in Pittsburgh, where the NFL's Steelers and NHL's Penguins had only a combined seven losing seasons in that span of more than two decades, the Pirates' winning season was front-page news Tuesday in both of the city's major newspapers.

It was the lead story on newscasts and the hot topic on sports radio, even more than the Steelers, who lost their season-opener on Sunday.

``It certainly thrills me to be a part of that,'' said Pirates hitting coach Jay Bell, the shortstop on the 1992 team. ``I like it a whole bunch more now than I did then because there isn't as much pressure.''

Pittsburgh went into the second game of its series Tuesday night at Texas a game behind the Cardinals. There were 19 games remaining, and the Pirates want more than just a winning season.

``I think it means more for people back in Pittsburgh,'' Pirates closer Jason Grilli said. ``But 82 is not a number that we had as a goal. We're not done. The significance of it is we're winning.

``So check that off the bucket list, I guess, if you want to say the stages of what we're trying to accomplish. That's probably at the bottom of them.''

The 1992 Pirates managed by Jim Leyland went to the NL championship series for the third consecutive season. Their previous postseason appearance was the ``We Are Family'' team that won the 1979 World Series under Chuck Tanner.

Rookie right-hander Gerrit Cole threw seven scoreless innings, with a career-high nine strikeouts, and allowed only three hits, to get the significant Monday night victory.

``I don't think I have to fully understand it,'' Cole said. ``We don't really understand what the fans have been through. ... We're extremely happy to be able to make them feel like we've got a winning team out there. But we've got a few weeks ahead, and those are going to be some real big games.''

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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