‘I’m easy to please, and hard to satisfy,’ has been Manager Clint Hurdle’s MO since he took over as skipper prior to the 2011 season. And prior to Sunday’s finale with the Reds, Hurdle said there have been some things that have pleased him this year, but he’s not satisfied with the season by any means.
“I’ve seen many times in my studies of history and of life and personally, sometimes many times, after a collapse, something really significant happens,” Hurdle said. “Take it one day at a time, you never know what’s going to happen. Look at the adversity that we went through this year. Right out of the gate, I don’t even know how many times I was asked about the toughest 40 games in baseball. That didn’t turn out to be the toughest 40 games in baseball.”
“We lost A.J. Burnett out of the chute. We didn’t hit for two months. We found a way to fight through a lot of things. We didn’t fight through them all. That’s the problem and to be a champion at the end of the season, you pretty much have to fight through all of them through six months…I still truly believe that you’ve got to find a way to speak greatness to these young men…to encourage. I find positives along the way. I’m realistic, but I’m optimistic. There are definitely many areas that we were not successful in this season.”
All the high hopes for the Pirates for the 2012 season ended with their second-straight second half collapse. Just two months ago on July 28th, the Pirates were sitting at 58-42 –and a season-high 16 games over .500, on pace to win 94. They were just two games behind the Cincinnati Reds at that time, but saw themselves slide out of reach of the National League Central. They hung in the second spot in the Wild Card along with St. Louis, but that too, slipped away from them as they were eliminated during their final road trip of the season. And what’s worse? On Sunday afternoon at PNC Park, a blown save sailed them to their 82nd loss to ensure their 20th straight losing season.
“There’s always something that you can do about it,” Hurdle said on the back-to-back-season collapses. “I think you always have ownership to a certain degree of everything that comes across your plate everyday. There are some things that are out of our control. There’s no doubt about that. Those are the ones that I encourage them to not spend a lot of time on.”
“I think you need to come to the realization of what this game demands when you don’t give it what it demands, what the outcome can be…Wouldn’t be wonderful in life if everybody in this room had an opportunity to go have a hard lesson that they would have learned it in one time? That’s the challenging part of sport, and everything we do. Doesn’t always work the second time. You’ve got to find a way to get better, and get it done…True persistence, and resiliency, courage, all those things, the traits we talk about. That comes from tough battles fought. We fought back-to-back years, tough battles.”
With just three game remaining in the season, the club has already begun their exit interviews. Hurdle also said that they have a plan in place and a system they follow for their end of season evaluations. But will things be done differently this year after seeing their second straight second-half collapse? The 126-year-old franchise has yet to see a winning season since 1992.
“It’s all about encouraging men to finish. To stay focused, to stay prepared, and to see what today can bring for you personally,” Hurdle said. “Everyday has the opportunity to bring something special. That’s kind of what I’ve kind of pressed upon them throughout. When you get to the end, there can be a heightened awareness of it because your days are running out. The other challenge that we’ve had this year is I’ve encouraged these guys, that this season is hard. It can be taxing. We’ve had a really rough go. You’ve got to find a way to be able to get out and breath still. And not just get caught up in the vacuum where everywhere you go, you’ve got a dark cloud over your head and you’re bringing negativity everywhere you go.”
“I encourage them –life’s short. Play hard. Have fun and find some joy, even when it’s hard.”
There’s been some positives to take away from the season so far. The Pirates have increased their win total by 20 or more games over the course of two seasons. Saturday night’s win, No. 77 on the year, was 20 more than the 57 it posted in 2010. They made history this season with the bat, producing two players — Andrew McCutchen (31) and Pedro Alvarez (30) — with at least 30 home runs in a season since 2001 and just the third time in team history. They also posted the most team strikeouts in team history passing the previous record set in 1969 (1,124).
But the negatives outweigh the positives, and their record since August (18-38) has forced the organization to dive deep into evaluations this offseason to ensure that another collapse does not happen.
“We talk all the time about developing the whole player,” General Manager Neal Huntington said. “We know that the core of it is the fundamental play. And we spend as much, if not more time than anybody in baseball on the field focusing on fundamentals. We’re going to evaluate everything. There is going to become much more focus on the last two months. The last 50 some games unraveled for us. We’ve got to determine why it unraveled, how it unraveled and then most importantly, how we ensure we put ourselves in the position to finish strong next year.”
“Recognizing what went wrong, top to bottom. What didn’t go well top to bottom. And most importantly figuring out a way to continually to get better. At the Major League level, put a better product on the field. I completely understand the fans frustration. We’ve not won the games that we’re supposed to win here the last 6-8 weeks. We’ve fallen short of where we looked like we were going at one point. My hope is that they will begin to also acknowledge that there are some good things happening to build that foundation upon. It doesn’t overshadow that we’ve fallen short up here.”