.500 has been elusive to Pirates

.500 has been elusive to Pirates

BALTIMORE -- It's been 16 years since the Pittsburgh Pirates finished a season at .500, and nine years since they've been at the break-even point more than halfway through a season. On Friday, the Pirates missed an opportunity to reach .500, and now they'll have to win the final two games of the series against the Orioles to hit the mark.

The Pirates last saw .500 on April 15, when they were 7-7, and since then, they've teased their fans five times by coming within a game of the mark before falling short. On Friday, Pittsburgh looked as if the promised land was at hand, taking an early 6-1 lead before Baltimore scored eight unanswered runs for a 9-6 win.

"Before you go above .500, you've got to get to .500," Pirates manager John Russell said. "You don't define success as a .500 team, but obviously, you've got to get there first."

In his first year as manager, Russell is trying to do something that his three predecessors (Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon and Jim Tracy) couldn't do. Lamont's 1999 team came the closest. It was at 67-67 on Sept. 1 before finishing at 78-83.

"It's the first step in taking the next step," Russell added. "We know what it means to a lot of people. We haven't been at .500 for a long time. It would be a little extra special to be at .500 now, and then we could continue on."

Doug Mientkiewicz has been with some good teams -- the 2004 World Series champion Boston Red Sox, and some Minnesota Twins teams that finished above .500. He doesn't define success as reaching .500.

"Is it a goal? Of course it's a goal," he said. "We're one game away. We're two games away. We're almost there. ... If we win [Friday] night's game, we get to .500. What does that mean?

"It doesn't mean anything. If we get to .500, relax, exhale, and then lose six out of seven, it doesn't do us any good."

Of the five times the Pirates have come within a game of .500 this season, they've lost four of them by three runs or more.

"We're just trying to focus on playing the game consistently, try to win every series you play," Mientkiewicz said.

"When you look up at the end of the year, your record will be what it's supposed to be," he added. "It's more media-driven, it's more fan-driven than anything else. We're just trying to become consistent and let the record fall where it may."

Mientkiewicz said that the players don't talk about the "goal" at all.

"If our record is 81-81 [at the end of the year], if anybody's satisfied with that, they shouldn't be in the room to begin with," he said.

Rich Dubroff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.