Prior to the Pirates heartbreaking loss on Thursday at PNC Park, Manager Clint Hurdle said that he didn’t expect the team to work their way back to .500. It was just several weeks ago that the Pirates were in the National League Central Division hunt. On July 28th, Pittsburgh was a season-high 16 games over .500. After the Bucs took a 7-4 lead into the eighth inning last night against Milwaukee, the bullpen blew the lead, which sent the club to a game below .500. Not since May 29th when they were 24-25 had Pittsburgh been below that .500 mark.
“I don’t try and be so caught up what’s going around me right now,” Hurdle said. “But I stay focused on what’s in front of us. I think that’s one of the things that can happen in sport, whether it be professionally in that clubhouse, whether it be the media group, the fan base. I keep looking for those staples that we’ve got to keep improving upon. I do know this, the game demands execution. You don’t execute, you’re not going to win games. They don’t give away W’s at the Major League level. Never have and never will. Until you go out and win a game, you don’t win the game. And that’s what I keep my mind-set on.”
“The commitment level has to be sincere and it has to be significant. I’m not happy with the results, but sometimes you’ve got to live with the results. If I’m not getting things out there, then things will change. Then there’s different mind-set. I didn’t expect us to fall back to this point. We’ve talked about finishing, we haven’t finished so far. We’ve got two weeks left to incorporate some type of finish here that’s significant.”
The Pirates dropped back to 5.5 games behind St. Louis for the second spot in the Wild Card, and were eliminated from the Central after their loss on Wednesday. With 13 games left of the regular season, the Bucs would need to go 8-5 in order to finish with more than 82 wins to snap the 19-consecutive losing seasons.
The mindset of fans has changed since Hurdle took over as skipper for the 2011 season. When he signed to be the club’s Manager in October of 2010, Hurdle preached about winning a Championship, not focusing on .500. Hurdle inherited a 105-loss club, and was able to lead the club to 72 wins the following season. With less than two weeks to go, the Pirates have already surpassed last years win total and have notched 74 victories in 2012.
“Two years ago when I walked in and I talked about winning a Championship, they rolled their eyes and they laughed at me,” Hurdle said. “Now they’re disappointed that we’re not going to win a Championship and we might not win the Wild Card. I’m not saying anything about that, I’m just sayings something’s changed. We’re not where we need to be, not where we want to be. Heading in the right direction? Absolutely. But we’ve got work to do.”
“It’s significant. It’s huge outside this room in a lot of many areas. And I get it. I’m reminded daily when I walk outside my house. And that’s okay. That’s fine. But that’s not the thing that I’m pounding right now to these players. This is professional pride. This is preparation and focus. It’s playing the game. It’s finishing.”
The expectations have changed, but that’s something that Hurdle said you strive for.
“This isn’t a try-hard league,” he said. “Ask the fans. I came in with that message and I got scoffed at more than I got applauded. Out on the street, ‘oh that sounds great. We’ve heard that before.’ And I get it. I get it. Well now, we actually have fans that are disappointed that we’re not going to win the Division. That we might not win the Wild Card. And they’re irate. I get it. But boy, what a change. There’s a change. That doesn’t make me feel good, but it makes me understand that there’s a change going on.”
“They don’t go find me or trail me. It’s all in good conversation. Whether it be at the supermarket, or the coffee shop, or Walgreens, wherever I happen to be…There’s some people that have told me that this is the best season they can remember in 20 years. That this has given them hope again. You hear that as well. They just share their thoughts. I get thoughts shared with me across the board. Pretty much daily. And it’s good. Nobody is maliciously ripping anything up. They do that other places. It’s kind of funny when people have to talk to you face-to-face. The presentation sometimes changes than a written word, or a thought, a blog or somewhere else. But I appreciate it. They care. There’s no apathy.”
In back-to-back seasons, Pittsburgh has seen a collapse. Last years came after the 19-inning loss in Atlanta in August. There’s been some comparisons on the collapses, however, this one came after 110 games into the season. Pittsburgh posted a 54-56 record during the 2011 season when the free fall started this year.
The team hasn’t been able to click on all cylinders since the start of August. When the offense has shown up, the pitching let the team down and vice-versa. Last month the offense combined for a team .253 average. That’s been followed by a .227 clip so far in September. The pitching has gotten worse over the final two months as well. They hadn’t posted a month with an ERA above four. That was until August (4.39) and September (4.75).
So what needs to change with the club in order to finish above .500? Hurdle believes they need an attitude adjustment.
“The one thing that happens in this game is when you start not getting the results you want, I think people have the tendency of wanting to do something big and impactful,” Hurdle said. “I’m seeing that again. [Wednesday] night there was a point in time where we only squared up three balls. It’s been ongoing for a while. What you need to do is connect the dots. Single someone to death. We talk about it all the time. Single somebody to death. Hit five singles in a row. Easier said than done, but the mind-set has got to change. You can not continue to do things the way you’ve been doing them and expect different results. It’s a definition of insanity.”
“There’s times where you’ve just got to sell out to a different approach. You’re approach is not working. Trying to hit the fastball all night long against some of these pitchers is not going to get us where we need to go. We have not made good adjustments. We have not made adjustments that we were able to make in points in time of the season so far. That has been the biggest challenge that’s really kind of hamstringed us right now because we are getting pitches to hit…It’s up to us to make a professional adjustment.”