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Pirates 3, Cubs 1: A 1970s Flashback

After two decades of slumber, the Pittsburgh Pirates are back in playoff contention. It was two decades before that, though, that the Pirates used to crush the Cubs' playoff dreams on an annual basis.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

It was the organ music that did it for me. "DOOT-DOOT-DOOT; DOOT-DOOT-DOOT", it went.

I don't know if PNC Park has the same organ the Pirates used at Three Rivers Stadium, but it sounds the same, and hearing that "DOOT-DOOT-DOOT; DOOT-DOOT-DOOT" brought back bad memories of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the Cubs and Pirates were bitter rivals. There were so many things the Buccos did to the Cubs in that era, from Willie Stargell's crushing home run at Wrigley Field in this game to the three straight division championships the Pirates won from 1970 through 1972, consigning the Cubs to also-ran status all three years, to 1974...

1974. That's the year Thursday night's game really felt like. That was a Cubs team headed toward 96 losses, while the Pirates were on their way to their fourth National League East title in five seasons. I wrote about a key Cubs/Pirates game from that season in the "Game From Cubs History" series last offseason.

So even when the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the third inning, it didn't really feel like they could win the game. After the Pirates scored a pair of runs off Chris Rusin in the fourth inning, I was sure that was it, and it was, even though Rusin finished with yet another very good outing -- just four hits and those two runs allowed in seven total innings. When Andrew McCutchen made a diving catch on Junior Lake's sinking line drive in the seventh, you just knew it wouldn't be the Cubs' night, even though they trailed just 2-1 at the time. (If McCutchen doesn't catch that ball, Lake might have circled the bases.)

The Cubs' bullpen gave up another run in the eighth, making the score 3-1, and with the Cubs' usual lack of hitting with RISP (1-for-7), that sort of lead is pretty much insurmountable. The first two runners reached in the Cubs' ninth, but a popped-up bunt, a lazy fly ball to center and a routine ground ball ended that threat, and the game. The Pirates' win, coupled with the Cardinals' loss to the Brewers, put Pittsburgh back into a first-place tie in the N.L. Central.

Of course, the whole dynamic between the Cubs and Pirates, and Cubs and Pirates fans, is different now. If you're too young to remember those years, I can tell you that most Cubs fans just hated the Pirates and what Stargell and Al Oliver and Dave Parker and Richie Hebner (who finally became a Cub in 1984 and helped them win the N.L. East that year) did to them seemingly every single game. From 1969 through 1979, the latter being the "We Are Family" Pirates team that won the World Series, Pittsburgh was 122-73 against the Cubs. I couldn't stand seeing them win over and over and over.

Now, of course, after the Pirates have broken their 20-season losing string, I think most of us would like to see them make a deep playoff run; much more so than the Cardinals and Reds, anyway. Players like McCutchen and Russell Martin are much more likeable than Stargell, Oliver & Co., although I shake my head and wonder how Marlon Byrd is having the season of his life at age 35 (he just turned 36 two weeks ago).

But the organ. That damned organ music. Thanks for nothing, Pirates, for bringing back bad memories from four decades ago.