9/30/2013 7:54 P.M. ET
Pittsburgh-born Walker savoring postseason for Bucs
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- As the local kid done good, Neil Walker has had to wear the years of losing more than most. It would be hard to find anyone to complain, as a result, if Walker was relishing this first playoff appearance for the Pirates since 1992 a bit more than most as well.
"It's really special," Walker said after the Pirates finished their workout Monday in advance of Tuesday's Wild Card Game against the Reds, live on TBS at 8:07 p.m. ET. "I don't think it's hit me yet. I don't think it's going to hit me until this ride is done and I hope that's after a World Series victory."
Walker, a product of local Pine-Richland High School and a first-round Draft pick of the Pirates back in 2004, was 7 years old when the Pirates last appeared in the postseason. He endured losing seasons, first as a fan, then as a member of the organization he grew up watching. He understands fully that Tuesday's Wild Card Game, whatever the outcome, is just the start of what has been brewing here in Pittsburgh.
"We've been through 99 losses, through 105 losses," Walker said. "That's as low as you can go. [Now that we're here], we know we're building something bigger than that."
He's not alone in that sentiment. People from Walker's past have been coming out of the woodwork, some after having abandoned ship, to revel in the turnaround of this franchise's fortunes.
"A lot of friends I grew up with are in Pittsburgh and are Pirates fans," Walker said. "Some of them jumped off board the last several years and some of them jumped back on board these last couple of years. I've gotten texts and calls and emails from people I didn't think were Pirates fans anymore, but apparently they are.
"It's funny how that works, but I'm OK with that. This is a sports town, this is a blue-collar town. We're going to have a lot of fun. 2013 has been so enjoyable to be a part of and I think this is just the beginning."
It's not just Walker's old classmates who are excited. The second baseman's father, Tom, who pitched for parts of six seasons in the big leagues, has gotten more excited than his son thought he would.
"He's through the roof," Walker said. "He never got to play in the postseason."
Before this year, the Walkers could only live vicariously through Don Kelly, Neil's brother-in-law who is headed to the postseason for the third year in a row with the Tigers. Now there will be first-hand experience, where Walker hopes to put the advice his brother-in-law gave him to good use.
"He says it's a completely different game," Walker said. "Every minute, every second, every pitch means everything. The emotional highs and lows of the playoffs, you can't find that in the regular season."
Hurdle gets beefier bench for Wild Card Game
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' 25-man roster for the National League Wild Card game will not be released until soon after it is filed with the league office at 10 a.m. ET Tuesday, but it will present manager Clint Hurdle with unprecedented options off the bench.
Since teams can set their roster specifically for the one-game play-in round -- and make changes for the NL Division Series if advancing -- the Pirates will carry only two starting pitchers: Francisco Liriano, who will actually make the start against the Reds, and Gerrit Cole, for an emergency.
Jeanmar Gomez, Bryan Morris, Vin Mazzaro, lefties Justin Wilson and Tony Watson, and the end-game duo of Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli.
A nine-man staff -- versus the routine 12 pitchers during the season -- will endow Hurdle's bench with three extra position players. One of them will be a third catcher, Tony Sanchez staying with Russell Martin and John Buck. Hurdle will also have an extra infielder and outfielder at his disposal. It likely means both Gaby Sanchez and Garrett Jones will be on the roster, and either Travis Snider or Felix Pie -- two lefty hitters -- joining Jose Tabata as outfield extras.
"We'll have more extra men than ever before, for hitting, running, defensive switches," said Hurdle, who does have one elimination game on his managerial resume, but under vastly different circumstances.
When his 2007 Colorado Rockies met the San Diego Padres in a 163rd game to determine the NL Wild Card, that was considered an extension of the regular season, so the expanded September rosters were available to both managers. Hurdle used 23 players in that game, to Bud Black's 21.
'Blackout' highlights playoff party in Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH -- The players are looking forward to it. The manager considers it another item checked off his to-do list.
But none of the Pirates truly have an idea of what they are in store for, of what PNC Park will look, sound and feel like when postseason baseball returns to the Golden Triangle on Tuesday night, starting at 8:07 p.m. ET on TBS.
It is going to be insane, in the best way.
The memorable needle will jump off the meter if a grassroots call for a Blackout -- having everyone in the crowd wear black clothing -- gains traction.
"That's something fans can really get into and look forward to," the Bucs' Josh Harrison said, "If they all wear black, they'll be even more amped up."
If that happens, manager Clint Hurdle's assessment of a typical evening in PNC Park will ring truer than ever.
"There have been nights when it almost looks like an Oakland Raider football game is about to break out," Hurdle said.
However dressed, they will stroll across the Clemente Bridge, baseball fans on a true pilgrimage. They will sit and stand in PNC Park, waving the Rally Towels handed to them at the gate and the Jolly Roger flags that make a Pirates crowd truly unique.
They will hear Petrina McCutchen, mother of the possible National League MVP-to-be, sing the national anthem.
"I think I hit a home run the last time she sang the anthem," said Andrew McCutchen, correctly recalling that Aug. 7. "If it happens again, she'll have to keep coming back."
They will see Doug Drabek, the Pirates' last Cy Young Award winner (1990), deliver the ceremonial first pitch.
Then they will watch a reflection of themselves take on the Cincinnati Reds in a win-it-all playoff game.
"We're a perfect snapshot of our city," Hurdle noted. "We're resilient, gritty ... not perfect."
The party got underway Monday at a noon downtown rally, at which the Pirates manager told the assembled, "We've twisted your heart for 21 years. But what are you feeling today?"
Harrison puts aside Cincinnati ties for Wild Card Game
PITTSBURGH -- The large contingent of media entered the Pirates clubhouse Monday and made a beeline for the locker of ... no, not Andrew McCutchen, but Josh Harrison.
The Bucs' Mr. Versatility -- he has played six different positions, including pitcher -- is the Cincinnati Kid through and through: born and raised in the city, an all-around sports icon at both Princeton High School and the University of Cincinnati.
All of which make him a focal point of the National League Wild Card Game for media from the Queen City.
Harrison, however, wouldn't take the bait: Beating his hometown Reds wouldn't make victory any sweeter.
"Not really. We'd like to beat them, sure, but to us it doesn't matter if it's the Reds, the Cardinals, or whoever," Harrison said. "It's a blessing just being here and, at the end of the day, we just have to worry about ourselves, not who we are playing."
Harrison did allow that the past few days have connected him with more Cincinnati acquaintances than usual.
"They tried to reach out to me, texting, 'We're rooting for you.' I don't know if they mean 'you and the Pirates' or just rooting for me, but I'll take it as rooting for the Pirates."
First number, last word
.317/.404/.508: McCutchen's slash line of average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, making him only the fourth center fielder ever to have two straight seasons of at least .300/.400/.500. The predecessors were Mickey Mantle (1954-58), Willie Mays (1954-55 and 1957-58) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1993-94).
"I'm nervous before every game, but it's a good nervousness to have. If you're not nervous, you shouldn't be playing the game. But I don't think I'll be any more nervous than usual, only more excited." -- McCutchen, on the eve of his first career elimination game.
• Cole, who worked his way onto the Pirates' postseason pitching staff with a compelling September, picked up another spoil of his 4-0 record with a 1.69 ERA in the final month: National League Rookie of the Month, the first Pittsburgh player to receive the monthly honor since Pedro Alvarez in September 2010.
• Jordy Mercer took a batting-practice swing in the cage during the Pirates' workout at PNC Park on Monday, and the next thing he saw was McCutchen rubbing his face where the ball struck him.
Mercer's panic eased as he realized the ball had first bounced and had not struck McCutchen on the fly. The center fielder's attitude toward the mishap relaxed everyone even more.
"I'm OK. But I think I hurt the ball. I heard they had to take the ball to the hospital," McCutchen deadpanned.
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.