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If you're Pittsburgh Pirate manager Jim Leyland, today is the first day of the rest of your life and today is the first day of the rest of your season. So while you have forsworn coffee and cigarettes, you are pounding tea from a Gatorade cup as you prepare to torch an English Corona, the utility pole you call a cigar. You're losing hair, you're losing weight, you're losing sleep. And somewhere you're probably losing ground in the National League East race.
"Ten days, four cities, at this time of year," said Leyland with a sigh through his stogie one recent morning. "We all get tired. I assume writers do, too."
MONDAY, SEPT. 17
The parade begins tomorrow, when the first-place Pirates arrive at Wrigley to play three straight games against the Cubs, defending champs of the National League East, now reduced to the role of spoilers. Pittsburgh will be followed into town by the second-place New York Mets, who will play a four-game set.
Of course, this is not a race in the traditional sense: Both racers, separated by half a game, are standing still, and the finish line is moving at them. The Pirates have lost five straight games as they land in Chicago. New York has just dropped two of three at home to the Philadelphia Phillies. But during seven days in the Friendly Confines, perhaps one team's hopes will ripen—and the other's will die—on the outfield vines.
TUESDAY, SEPT. 18
WELCOME TO THE NEW WRIGLEY FIELD—OUR FAVORITE TEAM, THE PITTSBURGH PIRATES. The words have been penned on the message board in the visitors' clubhouse by Otis, the tip-seeking visitors' clubhouse man. Beneath the message board, the Pirates have affixed to the wall a battered Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles poster, this season's talisman.
On a 2-5 road trip, you are happy to have brought along such keepsakes from home. Alas, you are less happy to have brought lefthander John Smiley, whom the Cubs touch for six runs in the first inning. As this one is over before it's over, the Pirates' collective unpatched eye wanders to the carnival that is the Wrigley scoreboard to see what is happening in New York, where the Mets are playing the Expos. Which isn't to say that the Pirates are scoreboard watching, a forbidden pastime among contenders.