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PNC pulses with energy as playoff drought ends

Crowd roars approval with every moment of ceremony before Wild Card Game

PITTSBURGH -- Judging from the scene both outside and inside PNC Park, it seems that Pittsburghers took every ounce of their 21 years of pent-up playoff angst and released it in the hours leading up to Tuesday's National League Wild Card Game.

Other than a handful of Reds fans, who stood out like a fire hydrant in the middle of a poodle convention, the streets were a sea of black and gold, with thousands of Pirates fans pouring into the ballpark decked out in some variation of the color scheme so famously tied to Pittsburgh's sports teams.

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With everything on the line and no guarantees that the Pirates would play another game, Bucs fans weren't about to pass up an opportunity to see their team -- whose 21-year October drought is one of the most famous streaks in sports lore -- play for the right to play again. And again.

That's why 50-something Charlie Petredis arrived at the ballpark in full gear, proudly waving a Pirates flag. He was fulfilling a vow of sorts that he'd made all those years ago, when the Pirates started to become more well known for losing than for their dominance in the early 1990s.

"I promised my son if they ever returned to the playoffs, I would be a Pirate from hat to toe," Petredis said. "And here I am."

"This is all self-induced," his son, Charlie Jr., said. "On his own will."

Most of the sellout crowd wasn't dressed as Pirates, of course, but their allegiance to the home team, if measured in decibels, was deafening.

Pirates fans got loud during the pregame introductions, so much so that their boos and chants of "Let's Go Bucs" drowned out the public-address announcer as he was relaying the Reds' starting lineup.

The energy could be felt from foul pole to foul pole, all the way up to the upper deck and down into the dugouts. Even Doug Drabek, who became the first Pirate to win the NL Cy Young Award in 30 years when he received the honor in 1990, felt the energy as he prepared to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

As soon as the last Pirates player was introduced and Drabek was ushered to the area behind the plate, he looked up and took a deep breath.

"I got a lot of texts from some of the kids I coach now, and family members, and they wanted to make sure I got it on the rubber, I didn't bounce it and I threw a strike," Drabek said. "There was a lot of pressure out there."

Drabek posted a 22-6 record in 1990, the year the Pirates won the NL East and made it to Game 6 of the NL Championship Series, against the Reds. He won 19 of his final 22 regular-season decisions and had a 1.65 postseason ERA.

Still, this appearance was, he admitted, nerve-racking.

"Very honored and excited and, I'll admit, I was more nervous there than I was pitching in the playoffs," he said. "You only get one pitch to get it over the plate. That was a thrill."

Drabek threw a perfect strike, ending a perfect pregame setting highlighted by the singing of the national anthem by Petrina McCutchen, the mother of Bucs All-Star Andrew McCutchen.

And just like that, it was time to play ball. In Pittsburgh. In October. Who would have thought?

"The Pirates were the best team in baseball three straight years -- 1990, '91, '92," Petredis said. "Three straight divisions and just a heartbeat away from the World Series. And we're back. We'll get another World Series, whether it's this year or in the future."

But this time around, it would seem the waiting period could be considerably shorter, and a lot less painful.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates