These Pirates just didn't deserve a loss like this. They're not the Denver Broncos, who waste our time by getting waxed in the Super Bowl every other year. They're not the 1985 Toronto Blue Jays, who were better than any other team in the American League but still couldn't win a pennant. This team, thanks mainly to Leyland, reached every bit of its potential.
"The amazing thing about this team is that the [Pirates] of 1990 and '91 were more talented, but this team was better," said Van Slyke. "We knew how we had to play to accomplish what we did. We sensed all year that this was a team on a mission."
The loaded Braves will be back in the playoffs, if not next year, then surely a couple of times in the next few years. But the Pirates? They're expected to lose Drabek through free agency this winter. Bonds, the probable National League MVP for 1992 and also a free agent, will undoubtedly be gone by December, off to the highest bidder. This inevitable dismantling of the Pittsburgh team makes the Game 7 defeat in Atlanta all the more agonizing.
Leyland spent that charter flight home choosing which 15 Pirate players would be protected in the upcoming expansion draft. "That's Jimmy. He turns the page and goes on," said Donnelly. "But I know him. He's not doing so good."
On the bus ride from the stadium to the airport following the game, Van Slyke said, "My wife asked me why I couldn't have a job that involved less conviction, a nonexciting job, like being Phil Donahue, or a lawyer or an airline pilot. But a lot of great things go with this job, like the emotional roller-coaster ride. I'd rather go on the ride, experience the downs a few times, than to not have the stuff to go on the ride at all."
This ride was an alltime downer, though. How does a player recover? "I don't know if you ever do," LaValliere said in the locker room an hour after the loss. "But there are a lot of people out there in a lot worse shape than we are. The sun will rise tomorrow. I might never get back here again, but I made it this year. I was here tonight. It was exciting. The bad guys won, but I still wouldn't trade this for anything."
He leaned back in his chair.
"But you know," he said, "it stinks."