9/24/2013 8:14 P.M. ET
Bucs' clincher brings remarkable numbers to light
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Rinse the champagne out of the hair, blow away the cigar smoke and, with day-after clarity, it becomes apparent that Monday night's game here was one of the most significant in the long history of the Pirates.
Securing a berth in the 2013 postseason was the obvious coup, but below that headline were several noteworthy subheads:
• The Bucs' 2-1 postseason clincher marked the 68th time they have held a team to two runs or fewer, topping the Majors' best such mark of last season: The Nationals led with 67 such performances.
• The victory was also the Pirates' 12th of the season when scoring two runs or one, their most such wins since 13 in -- and here again is the benchmark they keep going back to -- 1992.
• The Bucs' 29th one-run win is a club high since the 1993 edition also eked out 29 (impressive in its own right, since that club had a total of only 75 wins).
• Jason Grilli -- with the remarkable inning-long defensive help of first baseman Justin Morneau -- registered his 32nd save, which was also No. 53 for the staff. And that's a new club record, topping 52 in 1979, when Kent Tekulve was the individual leader with 31 and lefty Grant Jackson added 14.
With the 53, the Pirates lead the National League (one ahead of Atlanta) and are tied with Baltimore for the Major League lead.
Locke not included in Hurdle's rotation plans
CHICAGO -- Nothing has changed with the Pirates' pitching plans after A.J. Burnett leads off the weekend series in Cincinnati. The starters the ensuing two days still depend on the games' significance to playoff seeding -- although manager Clint Hurdle did think aloud about the most likely sequence, Charlie Morton then Gerrit Cole.
However, the Pittsburgh manager did for the first time confirm that Jeff Locke won't make another start -- while holding out the possibility the lefty might find a bullpen role on a postseason roster.
"We'll be open-minded, and see where it takes us," Hurdle said of the Ohio rotation plans. "Cole [who pitched Tuesday] and Morton [Monday's pitcher] would be on regular turn, so that's a possibility. Three games from now, it could be completely different. Sunday's game might not have the same value."
Hurdle would thus bypass the opportunity to bring back his best season-long pitcher, left-hander Francisco Liriano, on three days' rest on Sunday. This, despite the fact Liriano has performed well on short rest the only two times in his career he has done it (three hits and 15 strikeouts in 12 innings) and, with day games Wednesday and Sunday, in effect his body would be getting close to the regular four days' rest.
The manager has three reasons for dismissing Liriano as an option:
• "It's almost four days for the body," Hurdle said, "but you don't know about the mind. They have their routines, and some aren't very flexible with them."
• Great American Ball Park has not been kind to the left-hander, who has lost both of his starts there this year, allowing 10 hits and seven runs in 10 1/3 innings.
• Having a well-rested Liriano set for what now is a certain first postseason game is not a bad plan.
"I'm feeling good with how our rotation lines up," Hurdle said.
Martin made bullpen call before Grilli entered
CHICAGO -- When Clint Hurdle had left-hander Tony Watson begin Monday night's ninth inning before going to Jason Grilli for the final two outs of the Pirates' postseason-clinching win, the manager was not listening to his instincts.
He was listening to catcher Russell Martin.
Hurdle had a quandary after Starling Marte had homered with two outs in the ninth to give the Bucs a 2-1 lead. While the game was tied, Watson warmed up as the next man in; with the sudden lead, Grilli jumped up and began firing. But Watson had warmed up twice during the game.
Hurdle has two personal bullpen commandments: After warming up twice, you're burned for the day even without entering the game; and closers get "clean" innings.
"I kinda like to have a closer start an inning. I believe it makes them mentally focus when they start an inning," said Hurdle, who clearly could not obey both commandments in this situation.
As he is wont to, Hurdle was thinking this out loud on the bench when his catcher piped up.
"We can have Tony face Tony Rizzo," said Martin, referring to the left-handed hitter due to lead off for the Cubs.
"You know," Hurdle responded, "you have a little manager in you. That's a pretty good thought."
Watson came in to retire Rizzo on a grounder to third. Then Grilli entered and, with a dramatic finish, lodged his 32nd save. It was only his second partial-inning save, and the first was quite different: On May 10, Jose Contreras came in with a 7-1 lead in New York, and Grilli stepped in to get the final out after the Mets cut it to 7-3 and had a couple of men on.
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.