Cora's No. 21 jersey headed to Cooperstown

September 17th, 2021

The Pirates honored the legacy of Roberto Clemente in the final series of their homestand, as MLB recognized Roberto Clemente Day on Wednesday.

But the celebration didn’t end there. In fact, it ended up in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The Pirates announced on Wednesday that third-base coach Joey Cora’s No. 21 jersey is headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cora became the first Puerto Rican player to wear Clemente’s No. 21 while with the Pirates.

“I thought it was one of the coolest parts of the day,” manager Derek Shelton said. “... If you spend any time around Joey, he’s extremely proud of his heritage -- and he should be -- and of Clemente. The fact that he was the first Puerto Rican to wear a Pirates No. 21 since Clemente, I think it’s really cool that it’s going [to Cooperstown]. Very well deserved.”

On Wednesday, when the Pirates wore the No. 21 in their 4-3 walk-off victory over the Reds, two other Puerto Ricans besides Cora were able to wear the legendary jersey of their home island: catcher Michael Perez and special assistant to the GM Mike Gonzalez, who serves as the team’s Spanish-language interpreter.

Struggling to sweep
In their penultimate homestand this season, the Pirates went 6-3 -- a reassuring sign after being swept in consecutive series in Chicago heading into the stretch at PNC Park.

However, in all three, they won the first two games of the series, but lost the final game. It’s been an interesting trend in 2021, and it’s nearing historic proportions.

The Pirates have not secured a series sweep of two or more games in 14 chances this season. They have five more series this season to try to clinch their first sweep -- three against teams with records over .500.

If they don’t, they will become only the seventh team in the divisional era (since 1969) to go an entire season without a series sweep of two or more games, per Elias.

The others:

• 2020 St. Louis Cardinals (pandemic-shortened season)

• 2019 Baltimore Orioles

• 2018 Miami Marlins

• 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks

• 2004 Kansas City Royals

• 1983 Seattle Mariners

To find the last time Pittsburgh went without a sweep of two or more games in a single season, one must go back to 1890, per Elias, when the team was known colloquially as the Pittsburgh Innocents.

“Yeah, we haven’t had a sweep all season,” third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes said, “but as of late, we’re playing really good baseball. The pitching’s there. The hitting’s there. So that’s all we can ask for.”

Hopping into the playoffs
The Greensboro Grasshoppers, the Pirates’ High-A affiliate, clinched a spot in the High-A East championship on Wednesday with a 5-2 victory over Hudson Valley. They will face the Bowling Green Hot Rods in the finals.

Greensboro joins the Low-A Bradenton Marauders, who clinched a spot on Saturday in the Low-A Southeast Finals vs. the Yankees’ Tampa Tarpons, as Pirates affiliates in the Minor League playoffs.

Talking about player promotions earlier this season, general manager Ben Cherington mentioned that one factor in the decisions he and the player development staff make is if a team is playing meaningful games. Greensboro is home to a lot of the Pirates’ top prospects, and now, they have a chance to play for something much bigger than individual performances.

“We want to wish them [good luck] and congratulations on getting into the playoffs,” Shelton said. “Both of our A-ball teams are in, which is a really cool accomplishment.”