9/28/2013 7:34 P.M. ET
Morneau providing Gold Glove-caliber defense
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Justin Morneau's Silver Slugger hasn't yet shown up, but his golden glove has had a tremendous impact on the Pirates since his Aug. 31 acquisition from Minnesota.
That's lower case "golden," because the first baseman hasn't earned any Gold Gloves for defensive play during his 11 Major League seasons. However, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire's report to good buddy Clint Hurdle that Morneau's defense will open some eyes has borne out.
"He has definitely brought an edge to everything he does," said Hurdle. "He's a blue-collar guy, no flash, not a lot of style, not the range to knock your socks off."
Sounds like Morneau fits in perfectly with what shortstop Clint Barmes last year branded the Pirates' Vanilla Infield, for its lack of pizzazz while making all the plays.
"Defensively," Hurdle added of Morneau, "he's made more than a handful of plays that made you go, 'Wow.'"
There was a sequence of those in the ninth inning of the Pirates' postseason-clinching victory on Monday in Chicago, which Hurdle called "as sharp an inning as I've ever seen a first baseman have defensively."
It was punctuated by a play Andrew McCutchen likened to Derek Jeter's classic "flip play." In Game 3 of the 2001 American League Championship Series, the Yankees shortstop materialized to the right of home plate to retrieve an errant throw from the outfield and his flip to catcher Jorge Posada nailed Jeremy Giambi to help the Bombers to a 1-0 win and start them toward a comeback from an 0-2 deficit to the AL pennant.
On Monday night, with the Bucs trying to hold onto a 2-1 lead, Morneau picked up a loose ball in front of the mound and his flip to catcher Russell Martin nailed Nate Schierholtz for the game-ending out.
Hurdle installed Morneau as his cleanup hitter against right-handed pitchers, and Hurdle is sticking with that even though Morneau is hitting .260, with no homers and three RBIs in 24 games with the Bucs.
Liriano will get starting nod in NL Wild Card Game
CINCINNATI -- Left-hander Francisco Liriano remained locked in as the Pirates starter for Tuesday's Wild Card Game against the Reds -- only, his leash got a little shorter as a result of the club nailing down home-field advantage for that playoff opener.
Gerrit Cole, who had been slated to start Sunday's season finale between the teams if the Wild Card home field remained unresolved, has been scratched and now instead will back up Liriano should he need early relief.
Cole can't count on getting in his work Tuesday night at PNC Park, where Liriano has lost just once in 11 starts and has a 1.49 ERA.
Manager Clint Hurdle highlighted Liriano's effectiveness at home as one of the key aspects of the Pirates having earned the right to host the playoff game.
"Frankie's been real good at home, so that makes it significant," Hurdle said.
Liriano had been listed as the Wild Card Game starter regardless of where it would have been played. By comparison, however, he was 8-7 with a 4.33 ERA on the road, and had lost both of his regular-season starts in Great American Ball Park.
In four-game series, Bucs carry winning mark
CINCINNATI -- The shot at the National League Central title expired on Friday night, giving Clint Hurdle a head start on his 2014 to-do list.
"Winning the division got to be pushed to next year," the Pirates manager said. "The Cardinals earned their division rights, no doubt. A very solid team that finished very strong."
On the bright side, St. Louis' clincher confirmed that the Pirates are in the midst of essentially a four-game series with the Reds, the three-game regular-season windup here followed by their Tuesday Wild Card Game.
And four-game series have been very good for the Bucs, who did not lose any until the ninth and last, when the San Diego Padres took three-of-four two weeks ago at PNC Park.
"Yeah, we're now locked into a four-game series with this club. Four-game series have been definitely interesting for us," Hurdle said. "They've played out successfully more often than not."
The site of Tuesday's game has yet to be determined. The Pirates are undefeated in four-game road series, winning three and splitting two others.
• Francisco Liriano (16 wins) and Jeff Locke, A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole (10 each) are the first quartet of Pirates pitchers to reach double digits in wins since 1997, when Francisco Cordova won 11 and was followed with 10 each by Jon Lieber, Esteban Loaiza and Jason Schmidt. That '97 team finished 79-83.
• Andrew McCutchen entered Saturday's game in the throes of a 3-for-27 lull, but was he really slumping? Hurdle stressed the number of walks McCutchen had drawn in that stretch (eight), and McCutchen was actually working on a string of reaching base in 25 straight road games -- best by a Pirates player since Jason Kendall reached in 28 consecutive road games in 2003.
McCutchen extended his mark to 26 straight road games by reaching base when he launched a solo homer in the third.
First number, last word
40: Number of games Pirates pitching has given up one run or no runs, the team's stingiest performance in that regard since the 1977 Bucs also held the opposition to one or none 40 times.
"We have a feeling we can go further than anyone thinks we can. It's going to be hectic -- but you dream of it, you hope for it."
-- A.J. Burnett, on the postseason voyage on which the Pirates are embarking.
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.