5/23/2013 11:33 P.M. ET
Pirates showing mettle in close games
By Steven Petrella / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- Call it will, fortitude, confidence or anything else.
The Pirates aren't letting down late in games. Entering Thursday, they were tied with Atlanta and Texas for the most comeback wins in the Majors with 14.
Also, 29 of the Pirates' 47 games this season have been decided by two runs or fewer, including Thursday's 4-2 win over the Cubs, and they are 20-9 in those contests. Day by day, they're getting battle tested.
"It shows the heart, it shows the will to not lay down and give in," said second baseman Neil Walker. "And those things are important over the course of 162 games. It's early on in the season, but when you're playing a lot of close games and you have some come-from-behind victories, those things can really help you down the stretch."
The Pirates haven't let up on this 10-game homestand, in particular, which they finished 8-2.
Travis Snider hit a sixth-inning, pinch-hit grand slam Tuesday and a tiebreaking homer last week against Milwaukee. Pedro Alvarez hit a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth on Friday against the Astros, and the Pirates won on a walk-off error in the ninth.
"Any good team I've been on, or been a part of, has that [fighting] characteristic. You play the game," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I do believe that there is a better understanding of that than we've had my first year or two."
Veterans bring winning attitude to Pirates
PITTSBURGH -- Homegrown Pirates haven't experienced postseason baseball or long-term success over the course of the 162-game grind that is a Major League season.
But a few veterans on the team have, and it's rubbing off in the clubhouse.
"I know that's part of the reason they were calling me over to this ballclub," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "I've been on a lot of teams, a lot of postseason teams, and they wanted to know what makes things tick."
Inge spent 11 seasons with the Tigers, who made a World Series in 2006 and the ALCS in 2011 during his time there.
He said one of the things he's seen in all winning clubs is team camaraderie, and the Pirates have shown that since Spring Training began. Plenty of teams have the talent, he said, but not a collective positive attitude like the Pirates have shown.
"You're around these guys more than you are your family a lot of time," Inge said. "So if you're going to be butting heads all the time, it's not going to work."
After Thursday's 4-2 win over the Cubs, Pirates players and coaches were already throwing on their Penguins jerseys, which they'll wear when they travel to Milwaukee and Detroit.
Some players tried to match their numbers to those of the Penguins, who are looking to advance past the Ottawa Senators in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. Neil Walker donned a No. 18 James Neal sweater, Pedro Alvarez rocked a No. 24 Matt Cooke and Tony Watson wore a No. 44 Brooks Orpik.
Besides that, there were a handful of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jarome Iginla and Mario Lemieux jerseys of all different varieties -- home, away, Winter Classic and even camo.
Inge really got in the spirit of playoff hockey. He arrived at the stadium before Thursday's win over the Cubs in full hockey gear -- including roller blades -- and took a few shots on the net set up in the clubhouse while wearing his white Lemieux sweater.
"This is a sports town," Inge said. "It's good for the city."
The Pirates have also benefited from the veteran presence of Russell Martin and A.J. Burnett, who have been in the postseason a combined nine times. Hurdle says his team's veterans, including those two, have an "edge" to them.
But championship teams aren't built through free agency. More often than not, it's the development of internal pieces, complemented by veteran additions, that breed success. Players who have been around for the last two seasons in particular, when the Pirates faltered down the stretch, have learned valuable lessons and are becoming veterans in their own right as they gain more experience.
"The more you play at this level, and the more you go through situations, good, bad and ugly," Neil Walker said. "As somebody that has gone through the last two years, the highs the lows the in-betweens, you learn how to deal with those as time goes on."
Alvarez shows improvement at third base
PITTSBURGH -- Pedro Alvarez may hear the chatter, but he's "confident in his glove," anyway.
Alvarez's play in the field has been criticized in the past, but Wednesday night, he made three great stops on hard hit groundballs to his left. And while the Pirates did make two errors in their 1-0 win, manager Clint Hurdle said they probably saved five hits with stellar defense, several by their third baseman.
"Pedro wants to play third base. And he hears the noise," Hurdle said. "As long as Pedro continues to show me the effort, attitude and desire, to play third base, that's where he's going to play. Because he showed last night he can be more than an adequate defender. He can be a defender above average in the field."
In Thursday's 4-2 win over the Cubs, Alvarez continued his strong play in the field with a catch in foul ground over the tarp in the first and a nice diving stop and throw in the fourth.
Alvarez said it's taken repetition to improve his defensive game, and he hasn't noticed any drastic differences as of late. It's been a gradual progression.
And as he continues to log more experience, he's learning more about the position.
"It takes some time to learn how to play guys with positioning," he said. "And seeing the ball off the bat."
• Hurdle said he "anticipate[d] backing away from" using setup man Mark Melancon before Thursday's game, and stuck to that, as Melancon, who pitched an inning in Tuesday's and Wednesday's game, didn't pitch a third straight game.
• The Pirates were 22-24 through 46 games last season. They were 28-18 entering Thursday's game.
• Pirates hitting coach Jay Bell was not with the team on Thursday while he attends his son's high school graduation.
• The Penguins scored seven goals Wednesday night in their victory over the Senators in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There were eight hits plus runs total in the Pirates' 1-0 win over the Cubs on Wednesday.
• Inge showed up to the clubhouse on Thursday in full hockey gear and a white Mario Lemieux jersey. He even wore roller blades to go along with shin guards, pants, gloves, shoulder pads and a helmet.
First number, last word
2 -- According to Elias Sports Bureau, Francisco Liriano is one of two Pirates' pitchers in the last 95 years to record a win while allowing one run or fewer in each of his first three starts with the club. Dave LaPoint, in 1988, is the other.
"How many of you wrote stories about his defensive play last night? If you did, I applaud you, if you didn't, you whiffed. You absolutely whiffed." -- Hurdle to reporters after being asked about Alvarez's play in the field Wednesday night.
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.