The same qualities that Pirates manager Clint Hurdle used to get his club to overachieve into late July and be buyers rather than sellers is what he’ll need to use to keep the club focused and positive as they’ve hit this horrific stretch of losing 10 straight and 11 of 12.
An easy explanation to their current woes is the emotional hit they took by first losing that 19-inning marathon to the Braves on a horrifically blown call at the plate and then losing in 10 innings the next night.
Would the subsequent games have gone differently had they won those games?
No one can answer the question of momentum and whether they would’ve ignored the all-encompassing—some would say inevitably negative—aspects of being the Pirates.
Did they run into hot teams? Did their pitching, fielding, hitting fail them? Was it a combination?
I don’t know.
Hurdle’s main attribute as a manager is that he doesn’t take crap.
And it worked for the Pirates until recently. There was no logical statistical explanation for their success other than a superlative bullpen of scrapheap pickups; a good defense; and parity among the National League.
It caught up to them just as people were getting excited over the possibility of a playoff race in Pittsburgh for the first time since Barry Bonds played for them and was thin enough to pass for a background dancer at a New Edition concert.
They did make some aggressive—but smartly conservative—moves for Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick. They surrendered a negligible prospect, Aaron Baker, for Lee; a player to be named later or cash (which means they gave up nothing) for Ludwick.
I’d said that the Pirates should go for the deep strike and try to win now when the opportunity presented itself without giving up prospects they’d regret losing. They tried, failed and played it safe with Lee and Ludwick. It was the intelligent thing to do.
The key for the 2011 Pirates is how they rebound. If Hurdle can coax them to finish at or above .500, that could be a key to their future; toward recruiting free agents who want to go to Pittsburgh as a choice rather than a last resort.
Hurdle has a sense of when to flip the post-game spread and light into his players and when to give a pep talk to uplift the club. Now’s the time for the pep talk.
As the bandwagon empties, it’s more important now than ever in the efforts to change the culture of a dying franchise. Hurdle’s done a great job of that so far and it’s up to him to accentuate the positives.