Meadville Tribune

Sports

September 30, 2013

MLB: Pirates hoping for more than cameo in playoffs

PITTSBURGH — Where most saw misery and chaos, Clint Hurdle saw something else entirely.

The day Hurdle took over as the Pittsburgh Pirates manager in December, 2010, he spoke about electrifying the city. He preached optimism then went out and practiced it every day while talking about a vision that went far beyond returning a moribund franchise to respectability.

It’s why Hurdle isn’t satisfied after leading Pittsburgh to a 94-68 record and its first playoff berth in 21 years. It’s why he doesn’t view Tuesday night’s wild-card game against Cincinnati as the culmination of three years of patience, progress and pragmatism.

Press Hurdle on how detailed he allowed his vision to get and he leans forward for emphasis.

“To win a sixth World Series,” he said.

First things first.

The team that spent all summer defying expectations now must find a way to do it again when it hosts the first playoff game in Pittsburgh in 7,660 days. Coming off a weekend sweep in Cincinnati that gave the Pirates home-field advantage for the one-and-done wild card, Pittsburgh has to press reset while trying not to get caught up in the kind of hype not seen in the city since Barry Bonds bolted for San Francisco 21 years ago.

“What happened over the weekend,” Hurdle said, “doesn’t matter.”

Neither does the six months that came before it, though Hurdle believes his team has all the hallmarks required to make sure this postseason appearance will extend beyond a cameo.

“I like the grit factor,” he said, “and the lessons we’ve learned.”

Lessons hard won on a roster that is baseball’s version of Ellis Island, a mixture of veterans looking to revive their careers and an exciting young core that includes MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and ace-in-training Gerrit Cole.

Perhaps it’s fitting that left-hander Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA) will start the team’s most important game in a generation. Allowed to walk in free agency after an underwhelming stint with the Chicago White Sox in 2012, the Pirates signed Liriano to a two-year deal last winter that turned out to be one of the best bargains in baseball.

Fueled by a slightly overhauled delivery and a devastating slider, Liriano rediscovered the form that made him an All-Star in 2006. Even more, he’s found a home in a clubhouse that wasn’t always the most welcoming in the majors.

“In the beginning, when people came here, it was more of a rehabilitation center,” McCutchen said. “I mean it’s true. Guys came here toward the end of their career, saying this is going to boost them up, maybe they can have a big year so they can go somewhere else.”

Not so much anymore.

The arrival of pitcher A.J. Burnett in 2012 and catcher Russell Martin last winter signaled a sea change. Both players have World Series rings. Both still had something to prove. Both wanted to be part of something significant.

They weren’t alone. Former AL MVP Justin Morneau agreed to leave the Minnesota Twins after a decade to spend the final month of the season in Pittsburgh. Journeyman outfielder Marlon Byrd raced from New York to PNC Park for a chance to reach the postseason for the first time in his 12-year career.

Their paths, much like Liriano’s, shadows the franchise’s fall and subsequent rise. Once considered one of the game’s future stars, Liriano spent five years searching for a new identity after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007. He’s found one in a ballpark where he is 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA this season.

“He’s a Pirate,” Hurdle said. “There’s a lot of Pirate in every guy in there. They’ve got a flawed manager though.”

Maybe, but one that has proven to be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh. Regardless of what happens on Tuesday, Hurdle believes his team has turned a corner.

The Reds — equipped with postseason experience, as they’ve made the NL playoffs three times since 2010 — will try to make sure the Pirates have to wait another year before taking the next step. Cincinnati spent much of the season as the third team in a three-way race with St. Louis and Pittsburgh for the NL Central title.

Despite looking lifeless at times down the stretch, the Reds received a jolt by the return of right-hander Johnny Cueto. The 27-year-old missed most of the season with back problems but has been solid since his return on Sept. 16. The Reds are also likely to have in their lineup Brandon Phillips, their star second baseman who left Saturday’s game with a leg injury.

Cueto — with less on the line of course — has been clutch vs. the Pirates. He is 13-4 with a 2.37 ERA in 21 career starts against Pittsburgh, numbers that are even better at PNC Park, where he is 8-2 with a 1.90 ERA.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Cueto said. “I just do my job.”

If he can find a way to do it one more time, the Reds will play in St. Louis on Thursday. If not, baseball’s unlikeliest success story will continue, just the way Hurdle envisioned.

“I think we’re a perfect snapshot of our city,” Hurdle said. “We’re not perfect. We get down, we’re going to get up. We get knocked down again, we’re going to get up again.

“We’ll continue to fight for what we believe in.”

1
Text Only
Sports
  • Mitchell Wood FCV’s season comes to an end

    The end of an era.
    So it was with French Creek Valley dropping a 5-4 decision to Albion Post 567 in the Region 8 Tournament at Northwestern High School on Wednesday. For several key players, it was the last time they would put on the blue uniform for head coach Brandon Crum.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Meadville falls to NA in Junior League state opener

    The Meadville Junior League All-Stars spent all baseball season perfecting the art of winning.

    July 23, 2014

  • Rookie CB Gilbert signs with Browns

    Justin Gilbert’s got his contract with the Browns. Now he needs a starting job.

    July 23, 2014

  • Bills Camp Bills QB, coach differ on offense’s performance

    Bills quarterback EJ Manuel and coach Doug Marrone had widely conflicting assessments on how the offense performed on the third day of training camp.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • FCV tops Cochranton to advance

    French Creek Valley kept its stay in the Pennsylvania Region 8 American Legion Tournament alive on Tuesday in impressive fashion.

    July 22, 2014

  • Kinter and Neff Error-free defense, hitting propel District 1 to state title

    When Tom Brunot, Doug Hecker and Mark McKissock agreed about a month ago to take on a Senior League softball team they felt fairly confident in their team’s ability to defend its turf with a state championship on the line.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • FCV falls to Millcreek

    It may go down as one of the oddest games in Region 8 history.

    July 22, 2014

  • Meadville captures Section 1 title over DuBois

    For anyone confused about all the fire truck sirens and honking car horns that echoed through the streets of Meadville around 5 p.m. on Sunday, here’s the explanation:

    July 22, 2014

  • District 1 showcases 'D' in victory

    A strong defense up the middle is often where championship teams are born. The District 1 Senior League softball team certainly fills the bill.

    July 22, 2014

  • Trevor Smith St. Marys tops METS to win title

    When it’s two good teams going head-to-head in the game of baseball, sometimes a simple bad bounce can mean the difference between a win and a loss.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

Sports Scoreboard
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Business Marquee
AP Video
Raw: Families Travel to Taiwan Plane Crash Site Arizona Execution Takes Almost Two Hours Gen. Odierno Discusses Ukraine, NATO at Forum Gaza Fighting Rages Amid Cease-Fire Efforts Mint Gives JFK Coin a Face-lift Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers Ariz. Inmate Dies 2 Hours After Execution Began Crash Kills Teen Pilot Seeking World Record LeBron James Sends Apology Treat to Neighbors Raw: Funeral for Man Who Died in NYPD Custody Migrants Back in Honduras After US Deports Israeli American Reservist Torn Over Return Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan Six Indicted in StubHub Hacking Scheme Former NTSB Official: FAA Ban 'prudent' EPA Gets Hip With Kardashian Tweet Bodies of MH17 Victims Arrive in the Netherlands Biden Decries Voting Restrictions in NAACP Talk Broncos Owner Steps Down Due to Alzheimer's US, UN Push Shuttle Diplomacy in Mideast
Poll

The latest proposed expansion plan for the Crawford County Courthouse potentially would eliminate the former Tarr Mansion on Diamond Park to make room for a county administrative building. Should the 1860 mansion be demolished?

Leave it alone because it’s historic.
Try to incorporate it into the proposed expansion.
It’s too far gone to save, but it’s memory may be preserved with an artifacts and photo display within the proposed courthouse complex.
     View Results
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Stocks