10/5/2013 5:53 P.M. ET
To Hurdle, mentality key to Pirates' chemistry
By Tom Singer and Thomas Harding / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- To be called a pirate -- with a lower-case "p" -- is one of the higher compliments Pirates manager Clint Hurdle can give a player. He throws it around freely in reference to pitcher Francisco Liriano, who will start Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET on TBS).
Of course, it's a figure of speech, given that actual piracy is an international crime. But by signing with the Pirates, overcoming an elbow injury and giving experience and machine-like quality to the rotation -- especially at PNC Park (8-1, 1.47 ERA in 11 starts), Liriano has lived up to what Hurdle believes a pirate must be like in terms of attitude and approach.
"Well, you know, you can do research -- I haven't been able to talk to a real pirate lately," Hurdle said, drawing laughs at his news conference Saturday. "But in the movies that I've watched and the books that I've read, there seems to be a spirit of I really don't care what anybody thinks anymore. 'I'm crossing the line. I'm going to become a Pirate. It's not about mom or dad or brother or sister, not about where I used to work. I'm going to be my own man. I'm going to hope to latch on to a bunch of other men who feel the same way, that are like-minded, and try to get something special done.'
"Many of those men [his players] have gotten to that point in their career."
To think, Liriano, who turns 30 on Oct. 2, probably just thought he signed a two-year, $7 million contract last offseason.
But anyone who overcomes starting the season on the 60-day disabled list because of the elbow problem and by now is a key member of the team that ended a long postseason drought just might have a little Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power in him. Or, he may just be an effective pitcher (16-8, 3.02 ERA) who has fit in with a new team, which is just as good.
"Thank God I get along with everybody," said Liriano, who pitched for the Twins in the 2009 and '10 American League Division Series. "Just try to be part of the team and try to do everything I do with my heart. So I love baseball, and just being here is like a home. I'm having a good time here, and hopefully continue doing that."
Needing chance, Jones eager to make impact for Bucs
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates management shored up right field and first base late in the regular season, which wasn't a comfortable turn of events for Pittsburgh mainstay Garrett Jones -- who happens to play first base and right field.
With Marlon Byrd providing immediate leadership and production in right field after being traded from the Mets and Justin Morneau finding his bearings after coming over from the Twins to play first, Jones, 32, has seen his playing time evaporate. He hasn't had an at-bat in the postseason, either in the National League Wild Card victory over the Reds or through two games of the NL Division Series against the Cardinals.
Jones, however, could easily be thrust into important duty. In 17 regular-season games against the Cardinals, Jones has hit .321 (17-for-52), compiled a .410 on-base percentage, and has three home runs, five doubles and 10 RBIs. He has made just seven starts since Sept. 1, but dreams of going from forgotten to unforgettable. All it takes is a few big postseason moments.
"Every night, every guy that's on the bench right now waiting to come in, they're thinking of coming up, getting that big hit, a home run, whatever it takes -- a walkoff home run at home to help the team win a game," Jones said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing you may never experience again, to get in the playoffs and be able to do that. Every day, when we go to bed, the last thought on our minds is just a positive thought."
Jones would rather have multiple opportunities every game to have his dream moments, but he finished the regular season hitting .233 with a .289 on-base percentage. He had 15 home runs and 51 RBIs, but he didn't hit with the consistency the Pirates needed in their run to the postseason. Manager Clint Hurdle has weighed the strong numbers against the Cardinals against the overall down season, and his verdict on Jones is illustrated by the fact his name has not been in the lineup.
"He had a big, big time against the Cardinals," Hurdle said. "There's been a couple of clubs he did club this year. Overall it's been a challenging season offensively, and that was the reason for the trade to go get Byrd. Garrett just continued to work hard. He's continued to get himself in a position to be able to add when called upon whether it be a spot-start or a pinch hit off the bench. That's the reality, sport.
"Sometimes you have had a hand in your own regulation playing time, as I found out through my years of playing and non playing. There was really nowhere else to look other than the abilities and the successes, or lack of success, that I had. And I think it can be cleansing for a player to actually go through that and have that experience as well. Because at the end of the day, if you're pointing fingers at other places, there's always three pointing back at yourself. And Garrett has handled this very professionally."
Hurdle said he has had direct conversations with Jones and others affected by the deals. Jones said he understands his shortcomings, and the Pirates' success and the possible chances to make a postseason mark make the demotion easier to take. But he wants to earn back the chance to start next season.
"I've got a little mechanical issue, where balls I should've been driving into the gaps or for home runs, I'm coming around the ball and hitting hard ground balls to second base," Jones said. "I'm still hitting them hard, but they were ground balls and outs. That just hurt my consistency. I wasn't getting the big games, the 3-for-4s.
"It's a mental thing a little bit, but mechanically, I never got out of the funk consistently. That's the goal, to consistently get my swing off, be able to drive the ball consistently and I'll be in there. I've proven I can be an everyday guy."
McKenry cheering on Bucs while making progress
PITTSBURGH -- One of the loudest cheers during introductions before Tuesday night's National League Wild Card Game was for Pirates catcher Michael McKenry, who suffered a season-ending right knee injury on July 27.
McKenry had had several game-winning hits over the last two seasons. If that wasn't enough to win fans' hearts, how about the fact he stayed in the game and caught after knowing his knee was hurt because regular catcher Russell Martin was dealing with his own knee problem that day?
So when active and inactive players were introduced to the PNC Park crowd before the 6-2 victory over the Reds in the Wild Card Game, fans roared as McKenry hobbled to the first-base line to join his teammates.
"It was special, real special," McKenry said. "The crowd was great. They've embraced me and I've embraced them."
He was on the field with his catcher's mitt on during batting practice on Saturday's off-day of the NL Division Series with the Cardinals -- which is tied 1-1 heading into Sunday's Game 3 (4:30 p.m. ET, TBS) at PNC Park. In the days since Tuesday, MeKenry has been gradually squatting deeper, and is almost at the point where he can go into a full squat. He should be ready for next spring.
McKenry will still be moving a little gingerly when he'll be introduced on Sunday, but he's getting better. He's hoping the Pirates play well enough for him to hear his name called before two more series.
"If we make the World Series, I'm going to jog out there," McKenry said.
Bucs complete Morneau trade, send Welker to Twins
PITTSBURGH -- The Aug. 31 deal that brought first baseman Justin Morneau to the Pirates was completed on Saturday, with the Bucs sending right-hander Duke Welker to the Twins.
Outfielder Alex Presley moved to Minnesota in that transaction on the final day before postseason rosters had to be set, and Welker was identified on Saturday as the player to be named.
Welker made his big league debut this season with the Bucs, tossing 1 1/3 hitless innings in a pair of late-June appearances. The 27-year-old, signed as a second-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, posted a 3.57 ERA in 48 appearances, including nine saves, with Triple-A Indianapolis.
Morneau batted .260 with three RBIs in 25 September games with the Bucs and is 4-for-13 in the first three games of the postseason.
Presley spent significant parts of each of the last four seasons with the Pirates and batted .283 in 28 games with the Twins following the trade.
Pirates' NLDS tickets: A guide
PITTSBURGH -- If you're holding strips of tickets to Pirates postseason games .... No. 1, you're not dreaming and, No. 2, read this to make sure you show up at PNC Park on Sunday holding the correct ducat.
For Sunday's Game 3 of the National League Division Series, use the tickets marked "NLDS Game 1."
Monday's game will require the tickets marked "NLDS Game 2."
The potential confusion stems from the fact the tickets reflect the number of the game being played in Pittsburgh, not of the series.
• Justin Morneau will take a five-game postseason hitting streak into Sunday's game, going back to Game 2 of the 2006 American League Division Series, Twins vs. Athletics.
• Game 3 anthem honors go to Pittsburgh native and Nashville recording artist, Sarah Marince.
• The ceremonial first pitch will be delivered by Kevin McClatchy, the Pirates' former [1996-2007] managing general partner who fought and prevailed in two good fights: Keeping the Bucs in Pittsburgh, and the construction of PNC Park.
First number, last word
97-93: The Cardinals' scoring edge over the Pirates this year in the 21 games between the teams to date, including the regular season; the Bucs hold the edge in games won, 11-10.
"There were no lines for food. No lines in the restrooms, or anything. I've never been to a sporting event where there weren't lines for food, but nobody wanted to leave their seats and miss any action." Hurdle, on the riveted PNC Park crowd for Tuesday night's Wild Card Game against the Cincinnati Reds.
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. Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.