Pirates lock up NL East Division title is 3rd straight

September 28, 1992|By Mark Herrmann | Mark Herrmann,Newsday

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates hugged in clusters at the mound and second base, carried their manager off the field, filled their clubhouse with champagne spray and cigar smoke, then violated one of their own codes.

They talked about winning. It was both an unexpected and familiar topic for the decided underdogs who became National League East champions for the third consecutive year.

"They're all special, but this was the most special to me," said Pirates manager Jim Leyland, one irreplaceable constant for a franchise that lost several top players since winning its title last year.

"The first one was special because it was the first, the second because we repeated, but this one because of the players we lost and the things that happened. This was awful special."

It was also awfully fitting, coming in a 4-2 clincher yesterday at the expense of the high-priced preseason favorite. In the end, the New York Mets were in the pennant race essentially as the flagpole. They were something for Pittsburgh to hang its title on; they stood by while the Pirates unfurled their success.

The Mets, whom Leyland had considered the only team capable of running away with the division, were merely reluctant witnesses to a celebration.

After reliever Stan Belinda struck out Jeff McKnight, they withstood a roar from 31,217 fans and the sight of Barry Bonds and Lloyd McClendon hoisting Leyland on their shoulders.

"All the emotions came back, of how we felt during the winter, during the spring, coming out of spring training and coming in here in August, four games down," said Mets manager Jeff Torborg, who watched the celebration from the losing dugout. "To see them so happy and to know how down we are . . . "

Dwight Gooden, one of two Mets (along with Sid Fernandez) remaining from their last clinching party in 1988, did not even watch this one. "I didn't want to," Gooden said. "If I got any more disappointed about the way things went this year, I think I'd commit suicide."

As for this-could-have-been-ours reflection, losing pitcher Pete Schourek (5-8) said, "I think we're beyond thinking that right now."

The Pirates, meanwhile, have been beyond reach for the Mets for some time. They have gone 40-15 since July 30, winning the division despite having lost Bobby Bonilla to free agency, 20-game winner John Smiley to a cost-cutting trade and third baseman Steve Buechele in a deal for pitcher Danny Jackson.

Jackson (8-12) was superb yesterday, allowing a run on six hits in seven innings. Later, he stood in the middle of the clubhouse, bTC popping corks and yelling to no one in particular, "Thank you very much, Cubs, for sending my . . . over here."

Leyland said he kept telling his players to talk about effort and responsibility, not winning. "It's almost like they're in their own little world," he said. "We know each other, we know how to play baseball, we know we can win games, and who cares what anybody else thinks? I don't mean to be snobbish or anything. They're good guys, sincerely good guys."

His players know how to hit in the clutch: Bonds earned his 101st RBI with a sacrifice fly in the first, Jay Bell had two RBI singles and Jeff King had one.

The Pirates also know how to field, as second baseman Jose Lind proved convincingly with a leaping stab of Chico Walker's liner in the fourth and diving stop of Daryl Boston's hard grounder in the ninth.

Most of all, they recognize how good they are, and they know why they know it.

"Jim Leyland was the biggest factor on this ballclub," Pirates center fielder Andy Van Slyke said.

"I can't say enough for what he did for me. I had some doubts and he erased them. He's the biggest single factor this club believes in itself. He believed in us before we did."

Three in a row

The Pirates once again joined this list of teams that have won three consecutive titles since divisional play began in 1969:

Team... ... Years

Orioles ... 1969-71

Pirates ... 1970-72

Athletics . 1971-75

Yankees ... 1976-78

Royals ... .1976-78

Phillies ...1976-78

Athletics ..1988-90

Pirates ... 1990-92

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