Marlon Byrd couldn't help himself.
Hearing yet another question directed at his former and current teammate, catcher John Buck, about joining a team in the playoff race, Byrd chimed in. "Are they?" he asked facetiously. "What?"
They had played the Pirates this season and saw their talent firsthand. They were somewhat surprised, though, to end up Pirates, which they did Tuesday after the New York Mets sent them both to Pittsburgh with cash for minor league infielder Dilson Herrera and a player to be named later.
"I really wasn't sure if [Mets general manager] Sandy [Alderson] was going to make any moves," Byrd said. "Last minute, I guess they worked things out. They did me a favor by putting me with a team that's a playoff contender. I appreciate everything they did over there."
Byrd, 35, jumped right into the cleanup spot Wednesday against Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Tom Gorzelanny. Byrd was hitting .345 with a .597 slugging percentage against left-handers this season, part of an overall season with a .285 average and 21 home runs.
The addition of Byrd, who hit a three-run homer Wednesday night in the seventh, in right field was intended to provide an immediate jolt to a team whose right fielders have combined for a .681 on-base plus slugging percentage this season, which ranks 27th in the majors.
Byrd hasn't had that kind of success since 2010 with the Chicago Cubs. Last year -- as he is keenly aware, mentioning it to reporters Wednesday -- he hit .210 with one home run. He also served a 50-game suspension after taking a medication that contained tamoxifen, a banned substance. This offseason, Byrd changed his mechanics, working with a swing coach in California and continuing that work in the Mexican League.
"You have to be able to listen and be willing to change," Byrd said. "I could have been stubborn, hard-headed, 'I know what I need to do and stick with what I've been doing.' If it's not working, it's time to change, and that's what I did."
Buck, 33, hit nine home runs by the end of April and has hit six since. He is hitting .299 with runners in scoring position, .215 overall, with a .285 on-base percentage.
"Seems like I only get hits when guys are at second and third, which is I guess the important part," Buck said.
Buck initially thought the catching situation made Pittsburgh an unlikely landing spot.
"[Michael] McKenry went down, obviously, that created a spot for me," he said. "I didn't think this would be the team but I'm very happy that it is."
Buck will join Russell Martin and Tony Sanchez to give the Pirates three competent catchers once the active roster expands to 40 Sunday. In the interim, the Pirates optioned Sanchez to Class AA Altoona to make room for Buck.
Byrd and Buck saw enough of the Pirates this season to understand the team had talent. Buck, who had to assemble game plans for his pitchers when facing the Pirates, found fewer areas of weakness.
"Being the guy that calls the pitches against those guys and seeing how they closed up some of the holes, I couldn't go to those spots as much," Buck said. "They closed them up. They'd get extra hits on those particular spots I would go to."
Byrd saw a less tangible change.
"The big thing that I noticed was the confidence," he said. "This team oozes confidence."
Byrd looked forward to the opportunity to join the Pirates, who, at 76-55 before Wednesday, were 11/2 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central Division and had a hefty lead in the wild-card race. His former team, the Mets, were 59-71 before Wednesday.
"You never know when you have a chance," Byrd said. "There have been guys who never had a chance to play in the postseason. This is my one chance, and I'm just going to grasp it and embrace and enjoy the whole thing."
Buck walked into the clubhouse Wednesday to see his name on the back of a No. 14 jersey. Gaby Sanchez, Buck's friend from their days with the Florida and Miami Marlins, passed along the number and assumed No. 17.
"It was a bit of a surprise to roll in here and see it," Buck said. "I wasn't expecting it. I didn't want to mess up any of the mojo that Gaby had."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published August 29, 2013 4:30 AM