"Now, we feel like we're supposed to be here, not just lucky to be here."
And there, within that sentence from second baseman Delwyn Young, one can find perhaps the primary reason these post-trade Pirates have made this dramatic about-face: They clearly are more confident, more comfortable and, above all, completely energized by their recent results.
Look at Garrett Jones' two-run home run in the eighth inning, the third late long ball in the clutch in as many nights, that flipped the outcome on the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-2, last night at PNC Park.
Then, listen to Jones afterward ...
"There's just so much energy right now," he said, shouting over blaring music in the clubhouse. "We never feel we're out of any game. And that's fun, man. It's a lot of fun."
- Game: Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 8:05 p.m., Miller Park.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (10-11, 3.38) vs. LHP Manny Parra (8-10, 6.54).
- Key matchup: Everyone vs. Prince Fielder, who leads Major League Baseball with 115 RBIs and could become Milwaukee's first to finish the year in that category since Cecil Cooper in 1980.
- Of note: The Pirates have lost 18 in a row at Miller Park, the most recent victory coming May 3, 2007.
Look at Matt Capps, shaking off that ugly blown save Tuesday, by nailing this one in the ninth, then pumping his fist with such force he nearly KO'd Jones near first base.
Then, listen ...
"That felt pretty good," Capps said.
Look at this 7-2 homestand, including taking two of three from the World Series champions, that followed a 1-12 free fall.
Then, listen ...
"You know, those trades happened, and a lot of us didn't know what would happen, and all we did was lose," first baseman Steve Pearce said after his double and single. "Now, it's just a bunch of young guys here, and our dugout's like a college frat house or something. I love it. It's a great atmosphere."
"We're starting to become a unit, and a unit that plays pretty good baseball," starter Charlie Morton said after limiting the Phillies to two runs over six innings. "It's awesome. Just awesome to be part of it."
Even manager John Russell, whose demeanor hardly conjures visions of frat-house fun, struck a similarly enthusiastic chord.
He used the term "electric" to describe the tastes-great-less-filling atmosphere of the series, one in which the Phillies had nearly as many fans as the home team, and he added of the standing roar for Jones' home run from the 24,470 on hand, "You just can't beat that. Sounded like a sellout."
Of his team's turnaround: "Our energy level is outstanding. I've really enjoyed it. I'm really proud of what this team is doing. And, to beat a good team like that, it says something about what's happening here. A lot of hard work has gone into this, and we've got to continue to push it."
Andrew McCutchen, the throbbing pulse of this team's energy, hit his third leadoff home run -- ninth overall -- and Morton tiptoed through five hits and four walks that Philadelphia had only a 2-1 lead upon his exit.
But, as was the case all series long, little mattered until the late innings.
First, recently recalled reliever Denny Bautista, he of the 4.88 ERA with Class AAA Indianapolis, pitched a perfect seventh and eighth through the heart of Philadelphia's order to maintain the score.
Then, in the bottom of the eighth, the Pirates finally got to J.A. Happ, the Phillies' terrific rookie left-hander, by modifying an approach that had brought 12 groundouts and swinging for the opposite field: Pinch-hitter Ronny Cedeno dropped a single into right and, after two flyouts to right, up came Jones, a left-handed batter, to line a 1-1 fastball into the center-field landscaping for a 3-2 lead.
"Just went with the pitch that was there," Jones said. "I wasn't sure it was going to go out because it was so straight, but I was glad it did."
Jones' 15 home runs have come within two months, breaking the franchise rookie record for consecutive months set by Dick Stuart in 1958.
By no means was this over, though. Not after these teams combined for three blown saves in the first two games.
Capps broke Pedro Feliz's bat on a groundout and, after Paul Bako singled, it once again was uh-oh time, especially with two tough left-handed bats due up. But Capps blazed 94-mph heat past a swinging Matt Stairs and got Jimmy Rollins to ground out, breaking another bat in the process.
The Pirates begin a seven-game road trip tonight in Milwaukee, where they have lost 18 in a row dating to early 2007.
The next frontier?
"Everything takes time, and I'm showing that with how I'm learning at second base," Young said after making a diving stab to rob Shane Victorino in the seventh. "This wasn't going to happen right away. We had to learn about each other, spend some time together and, most of all, feel good about ourselves. That's happening now."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published August 28, 2009 4:00 AM