Bucs' focus unchanged after streak-snapping 81st win
Pirates lock up first .500 season in 21 years, still target World Series title
MILWAUKEE -- The most remarkable aspect of an occasion a generation in the making was that, instead of being the focus of a celebration, it was a blur to players on a fast track.
The Pittsburgh Pirates did what they had not done in 21 years Tuesday: bag an 81st win. It meant being assured of not adding another losing season to what is already a North American-team record string. It meant one more victory from a guaranteed winning season. It meant …
"It means no more talking about it," said Andrew McCutchen, the young team elder who played his first game for the Bucs on June 4, 2009, before anyone else in a Pirates uniform Tuesday night.
"No more negativity. We don't have to think about it any more," McCutchen added, "or be a part of it."
Those words made the three-time National League All-Star sound a lot like the Milwaukee bullpen catcher who is the only holdover from the 2005 Brewers team that ended 12 consecutive years of losing.
"I just know it was a big moment -- an 'over the hump' moment," Marcus Hanel recalled Tuesday afternoon. "We didn't have to hear about losing anymore. It was a good sense of accomplishment for the organization. There was a ray of hope."
One huge difference in how the Brewers ended their skid with a win -- yes, in Pittsburgh: It came on the final weekend of that season, with nowhere to go.
The Pirates have a whole month -- and beyond -- ahead of them. With the rest of the NL Central behind them, closest pursuer St. Louis two games back.
Manager Clint Hurdle and his coaching inner circle know there were some glasses raised in toast in Pittsburgh late Tuesday night. Bench coach Jeff Banister, the only uniformed member of the organization for all of the two decades of losing, figured little celebrations might have also broken out in a tavern or two.
"Hopefully, there is a sensation of pride in the city of Pittsburgh tonight and they can enjoy this moment," Banister said, "maybe get up [Wednesday] and stick their chests out a little bit.
"But they've got to understand: We still have a long ways to go; this is not finished by any means. All year, we've talked about winning the World Series ... "
Banister had to stop, as he was briefly interrupted. A.J. Burnett came up to give him a hand and a big hug -- a momentary betrayal of the public apathy team personnel were otherwise showing for 81.
In another moment of candid honesty, one of the younger Pirates players said, "No one wants to say this, because our aim is so much higher, but … I think this is pretty cool. How often do you get to see something that hasn't happened in 21 years?"
"I'll enjoy it tonight," Banister continued, "and will probably be talking it up with several people. But I want to stress, this is just a number we had to get to to get where we want to go. It's a milestone, a marker on the road."
"We're here to win the World Series," McCutchen said. "That's what it's all about, and we've kept that mindset every day. That's why you see all these guys playing so tight together: We're trying to reach a goal."
Hurdle has often said today's Pirates should not be burdened with 20-year baggage. Indeed, some of the fresher players were downright amused, if not puzzled, by the commemoration of win No. 81.
Francisco Liriano, who will start for the Pirates on Wednesday, was asked whether there will be a little significance in "going for 82?"
Liriano had no idea what the question was about and, when its background was explained, smiled shyly, "I didn't know anything about that."
Marlon Byrd, a Pirate of one week, summarized the newbie perspective:
"Here's the thing. That is something for people that aren't part of the 25, the front office or the coaching staff to talk about. I came over here, and there has been one goal, only one thing I've heard people talk about, and it's not 81 wins. It's getting to the playoffs and winning the whole thing.
"This was just a small step for the organization in changing the culture. Get the monkey off your back. Now it's time to focus on October."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.