At Long Last for Pirates, a Glove Story

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It's been a decade and change.

It's been a dozen years with no change, really.

It's been exactly 12 years, three months and 20 days since Todd Ritchie threw ball one way outside to formally, fittingly christen PNC Park. And in all the time that's passed, not a single pitch of consequence for the home side -- meaning one that involved a pennant or playoff chase -- has been thrown.

Not until 7:05 p.m. Monday, when Francisco Liriano will pitch to Matt Carpenter, when the Pirates will face the Cardinals for the first of a five-game set between teams separated by a mere couple of games for the National League's best record.

Biggest series in PNC Park history?

Let's just say the folks at Elias Sports Bureau would laugh and hang up if you called with a request to research the rest.

And it's not just this game or this week, but all 14 -- yes 14 -- meetings left between these teams down the stretch. It's setting up as a mano-a-mano unseen in these parts since, what, John Milner's grand slam at Three Rivers climaxed the fantastic but ultimately futile chase with the Phillies in 1978?

Should be a blast.

And you know what's got to be the most uplifting part from the Pirates' perspective?

They belong in this matchup.

This isn't like the past two summers, when there were surges but never really that feeling of certainty they'd hang around. This is different. Sure, St. Louis has Major League Baseball's No. 4 offense and is miles ahead of the Pirates' 24th-ranked unit, and the Cardinals' pitching is a close No. 4 in ERA to the Pirates' No. 1, but the teams are legitimately comparable as a whole.

And that, if you ask me, is primarily because these Pirates play some serious defense.

First thought that always pops to mind about the Cardinals, whether under Tony La Russa or now Mike Matheny, has been their fundamentals. You've heard it time and again when they execute a play properly: That's why they're the Cardinals. They and the Twins have been cited forever as the models across baseball, from Legion ball on up.

Well, the Pirates have been as good in the field as anyone, maybe better.

Moreover, that facet has become their identity, their mojo, if you will.

As Liriano was telling me last week in Washington, "This team is about who we are in the field, when we're all out there together. …