Now, as the postseason morphs into the awards season, those fans will be able to lend their voices to recognizing the Bucs' outstanding performances and episodes of 2013.
The Bucs have earned 11 nominations for 2013 GIBBY (Greatness in Baseball Yearly) trophies, and Major League Baseball's A-listers will take home the ultimate honors of the industry's awards season based on votes by media, front-office personnel, MLB alumni, fans at MLB.com and the Society for American Baseball Research.
In addition to individual excellence, the Pirates' nominations reflect the organizational corner turned by a team that posted 94 victories in the wake of 20 consecutive losing seasons.
Clint Hurdle is in the running for top manager. One GIBBY is awarded in each category across league lines, thus Hurdle's competition includes John Farrell and Terry Francona -- who led turnarounds from 2012 in Boston and Cleveland, respectively -- as well as Don Mattingly, who led an April-to-June turnaround with the Dodgers.
Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington, in being nominated as top executive, picks up the Bucs' season-long rivalry with their chief National League Central foes; also nominated are John Mozeliak and Walt Jocketty, the respective GMs of the Cardinals and the Reds. That ballot also includes Boston's Ben Cherington, Detroit's Dave Dombrowski and Oakland's Billy Beane.
Storming out of their lost generation for a return to postseason play also earned the Pirates one of the NL's two nominations for the year's top storyline, along with the Dodgers' reversal of fortune, recovering from a terrible start to win the NL West in a runaway. The two NL nominees are competing against two emotional AL storylines -- the Red Sox helping Boston heal from the Marathon tragedy, and the long good-bye of Mariano Rivera.
All told, this year's GIBBY Awards feature nominees in 22 categories. Individual honors will go to the MLB MVP, in addition to the year's best starting pitcher, hitter, closer, setup man, rookie, breakout hitter, breakout pitcher, comeback player, defensive player, manager, executive and postseason performer.
GIBBY trophies also will be awarded for the year's top play, storyline, hitting performance, pitching performance, oddity, walk-off, Cut4 topic, regular-season moment and postseason moment from MLB.com's Must C highlight reels.
The roster of individual Pirates nominees understandably leads off with McCutchen, only the fourth center fielder in history to post consecutive .300/.400/.500 seasons. McCutchen, who hit .317 with an on-base percentage of .404 and a slugging average of .508, is up both for MVP and top hitter.
The Angels' Mike Trout, interestingly, is the only other outfielder up for MVP, where the competition includes St. Louis second baseman Matt Carpenter, Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera and Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis. Michael Cuddyer of the Rockies and the Orioles' Adam Jones are fellow outfielders up for top hitter.
Gerrit Cole, who did not join the Major League club until mid-June and wound up tied for second on the staff with 10 wins, is a nominee for top rookie, arguably the most competitive of all the individual awards. Other candidates include the Dodgers duo of outfielder Yasiel Puig and left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, Miami righty Jose Fernandez and Cardinals 15-game winner Shelby Miller.
Melancon set a club record for lowest relief ERA [1.39] with 50-plus innings but, around an extensive detour as a closer while Jason Grilli was out with a forearm injury, was even sharper in the role for which he earned a GIBBY nomination: Top setup man; in 36 eighth-inning appearances, Melancon had an ERA of 1.00 and allowed no home runs in 130 at-bats. St. Louis' Trevor Rosenthal and lefty Craig Breslow of Boston are among other candidates for the trophy.
Coming off his 6.20-ERA in 2012 with the Red Sox, Melancon would have also been a logical candidate for top comeback. Instead, that nomination went to Liriano, the left-hander who emerged as the ace of the Bucs' rotation [16-8, 3.02] a year after having been 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA while splitting the '12 season between the Twins and the White Sox. Rivera, who had sat out most of last season following a knee injury, is a worthy challenger for this honor.
Of the Pirates season's thousands of plays, the one singled out for top play -- the only category in which each of the 30 clubs has a nomination -- was Sanchez's tumble into PNC Park's first-base dugout while chasing a pop foul off the bat of the Padres' Chris Denorfia. It was an extraordinary effort in a game the Pirates led 9-1 in the eighth inning, and it inspired a new verb in the cultural lexicon -- Sanchezing.
That gets the ballot to the fun stuff.
Burnett became an unwitting nominee for top oddity for having the reson bag explode in his hands -- not once, but twice. The first incident, on Opening Day, may have been laughed off as teammate's April Fool's prank. But then how to explain the identical mishap on July 7?
As for the Cut4 topic, the Pirate Parrot was nominated for reaching for a foul ball from the left-field corner seats -- and falling on his beak in an incident broadcaster Tim Neverett immediately identified as a "fowl ball."
In the past five years, fans have cast more than 50 million votes across the various GIBBY categories, none of which was restricted to individual League affiliation. Fan voting runs through Dec. 1.
Winners will be presented their GIBBY trophies at the MLB.com Greatness in Baseball Yearly Awards extravaganza during the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.