Hurdle's posturing a joy

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CHICAGO -- When the Pirates milk two road victories from the season's opening weekend, the inclination is to avoid the borderline-giddy atmospherics that get touched off because two road wins represent roughly 12 percent of last year's total.

You don't want to go loopy about two-out-of-three, knowing that this team won two of the first three a year ago on the way to about 400 losses.

But there is this, and it's a pleasure to report, frankly, that twice Sunday and three times in this series, the manager of the Pirates was quickly on the field to question and protest, to have pointed discussions with umpires, to defend his ballclub against even the hint of abuse.

"I was out there all day," Clint Hurdle said 10 minutes after Sunday's zany 5-4 victory, "and I was wrong all day."

Doesn't matter.

This team's minimal potential for the intangible called swagger has been crippled for three years under John Russell, whose abstemious approach to protest or theatre of any kind left the impression that the Pirates didn't mind going quietly, murmuring against the fates whether they deserved them or not.

No more.

When Garrett Jones got hit with a mistimed beer shower from the Wrigliots in the right field seats while running after Carlos Pena's two-run fourth-inning double, Hurdle visited first base umpire James Hoye for his version of events.

"I threw an argument up there," the manager shrugged. "Don't know if it had any merit. The truth is the ball probably couldn't have been caught."

Doesn't matter.

Then in the ninth, when Lyle Overbay was ruled out crossing first on a bang-bang tag play that irritated first base coach Luis Silverio, Hurdle made a pointed encore. He complained loudly to Hoye this time, and when second base ump Tom Hallion, the crew chief, became needlessly involved, Hurdle didn't wait for Hallion to get there. The managed advanced, restated his opinion, then lingered for a final argument with Hoye after Hallion retreated.

The manager was clearly posturing -- Overbay hadn't even touched the bag -- but it was so superior to the customary Pirate posture of sitting on your hands.

"I wanted to protect my first base coach," Hurdle said.

The Pirates have protection? What next?

How about Hurdle bunting the clean-up hitter in the ninth, after Jones walked and Neil Walker lashed a single to right?

"There are arguments up and down on that, but I knew with [Cubs closer Carlos] Marmol in the game they weren't going to walk Pedro [Alvarez]," Hurdle said. "That was going to be man-on-man. He was going to go after him."

I'm not much for bunting the clean-up hitter in any situation, but after Overbay put the sacrifice down successfully, I was all but certain Marmol would walk Alvarez, who had two of the Pirates' 16 hits and had just missed jacking a three-run homer against starter Matt Garza. A walk would set Matt Diaz or perhaps pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit up for an inning-ending double-play ball, which by the way, Diaz delivered, but only after Alvarez nubbed a 75-foot single that somehow plated both the tying and winning runs.

"I think I did it once in Toronto," Overbay said on the whole bunting notion, "but I know I did it once in Milwaukee."

So he was pretty much wholly inexperienced.

"That's why those guys worked on it all spring," Hurdle said. "We're not going to be conventional. I wanted to get the winning run to second base. I wouldn't have bunted Walker with one on, and two runs down, it's a completely different story. I definitely wanted to play to win on the road in that situation, but you've got to pick your spots."

Sometimes, as the manager pointed out, things just work out. Which is not the same thing as saying that sometimes you get lucky, even if the Pirates were.

When Alvarez poked Marmol's 1-1 pitch to the left of the mound, shortstop Starling Castro charged and made a ridiculous throw wide of first, allowing Walker to hustle home behind Jones and overturn a 4-3 Chicago lead.

Castro's excuse for that might have been that he just turned 21 and is the youngest player in the game, but Pirates shortstop Ronny Cedeno made an equally dumb play that could have spoiled the Pirates' ninth. With Castro on first and one out, Darwin Barney topped Joel Hanrahan's 2-2 pitch toward short. Hurrying to get a double play, Cedeno threw it into right field, putting the tying run on third and the winning run on first.

Apparently it takes more than five years in the big leagues to identify what is NOT a double-play ball. Cedeno should have played for a simple force at second.

"No doubt," Hurdle said. "I'm not sure he wasn't doing that, but he didn't go about it very well."

Marlon Byrd then did Cedeno the great favor of rapping a real double-play ball right at him to end the game. Hurdle didn't seem surprised; it was just everyone else that did.

The manager chose for the major league debut of Mike Crotta the seventh inning of a one-run game on the road, and Crotta delivered a one-two-three performance punctuated by a three-pitch strikeout of Pena, the $10 million slugger. The manager chose to bump Walker out of the two slot in the batting order, even though his second baseman was 3 for 8 with two homers and a grand slam at game time, or 45 minutes after center fielder Andrew McCutchen was scratched. Hurdle moved Jones into Walker's spot, and Jones was on base three times.

Most especially, the manager chose not to let the fates continue to buffet his Pirates. It's commendable.

Gene Collier: .


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