Seven years ago, Homer Bailey became a legitimate prospect as a 19-year old, ranking 48th on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect List. The Reds and Pirates finished fifth and sixth respectively.
Five years ago, Homer Bailey was the fifth ranked prospect, coming in ninth the next year. The Reds and Pirates once again finished fifth and sixth respectively.
Two years ago, Homer Bailey looked like a bust, a pitcher destined for short bursts at the back of a rotation in between trips to AAA. The Reds went to the playoffs as the winner of the NL Central, the Pirates once again finished sixth.
And tonight, in the midst of Homer Bailey’s best season as a professional at the age of 26, he threw a no-hitter, topping 200 innings for the first time in the Major Leagues along the way. The Reds are once again atop the NL Central and the Pirates will finish fourth with, presumably, a sub .500 record. If soap operas and superhero comics are about the illusion of change without anything happening to the status quo, the Pirates should be held as their gods.
But oh, how they fooled us. On August 8th, the Pirates were 63-47, close to the top of the division and right in the thick of the Wild Card race. Sure, the team may have been playing above their heads, but Andrew McCutchen was a rightful MVP candidate, Pedro Alvarez knew how to hit when the sun was out, and the piecemeal rotation was lead by AJ Burnett and James McDonald. Since then, the Pirates have gone a remarkable 13-31, good for a .302 winning percentage. In comparison, the lowly Astros have .327 winning percentage this year. The Pirates rotation has been a mess, the team has stopped scoring runs, and it all went kablooey like Elmer Fudd’s gun backfiring on him.
It’s one thing to be a mediocre team in the midst of a middling season and it’s quite another when, for the second year in a row, a team without a winning record since 1992 forgets that the baseball season doesn’t stop in July . The Pirates didn’t slowly slide out of the playoff race, letting people’s expectations slip away, it’s almost as if the team was transported to the Space Jam dimension and they were all of sudden mere mortals playing against the Monstars. At least that would have been interesting to watch.
To complete the narrative, Homer Bailey had to throw a no-hitter to give the Pirates their 81st loss, coming on the heels of RA Dickey’s 20th victory the day before no less. The Pirates have looked like sluggish buffoons in the last two months, and were very nearly no-hit by Justin Verlander earlier in the year, but the sheer difficulty of completing a no-no kept themselves from that embarrssment. But the way the Pirates luck changed, this was all in the cards.
Indeed, it was fated that with Homer Bailey on the mound, a top-prospect turned middle rotation pitcher, something the Pirates have failed to develop over the past decade despite dozens of draft picks at the front of the draft, would throw a no-hitter. Not to take away from Bailey’s performance and his ten strikeouts, but he was simply a 91 mph-dealing pawn in the old gods love of story and tragedy.
The Reds will go on to the playoffs and Homer Bailey will be go down as the 16th man to throw a no-hitter for baseball’s oldest club. He may even be known as the great Momentum-giver should the Reds win the World Series, but as the Reds celebrate, the Pirates will go back home, rest up, and struggle vainly against the .500 win ceiling. It’s kind of poetic in a Willy Lohman kind of way.