Most of the Pirates' major moves this season panned out well. Signing Francisco Liriano to an incentive-laden contract provided them another good starter for just $1 million in guaranteed money. Adding Russell Martin benefited the lineup, the pitching staff and the defense, especially with his ability to prevent runners from stealing bases.
The waiver trade acquisitions, Pirates for only a short period of time, have so far followed suit. Marlon Byrd provided immediate impact, and Justin Morneau and John Buck pitched in as well.
"That's why we went and got the guys, to stretch the lineup out," manager Clint Hurdle said. "They're impact bats that can hit in the middle of the lineup. Makes everybody better, and they've got some experience. The focus in the dugout, there's a vibe and it's real."
In eight games with the Pirates entering the weekend, Byrd had 12 hits in 31 at-bats and had driven in eight runs. Morneau was 6 for 13 in his first four games. Buck was 3 for 3 in his first start and had a hit in each of his three games.
"It's nice being a part of this," Byrd said. "I'm just a piece of the puzzle. Come in, drive in runs whenever I can and help the team win."
A small sample size of the Pirates' lineup with the new additions prevents sweeping conclusions from being drawn, but in the similarly small sample size that is the final month of the season and the race for the division title, their contributions have helped.
"Nobody wants to come in and not be able to contribute, and the sooner you get it done, the better it is for that individual as well as everybody else," Hurdle said. "Morneau has the ability to throw a professional at-bat out there every time he goes up, and Byrd has shown the ability to plate runs since he's been here."
'21' simply wasn't an option
Since his arrival, Hurdle has treated the streak of consecutive losing seasons, and its imminent end, in a similar fashion. It's on their to-do list, he said, but they hold loftier aspirations.
That didn't stop him from enjoying the reaction when the Pirates won their 81st game Tuesday.
Friends from Pittsburgh texted and emailed their congratulations after the Pirates, at the time, had secured a non-losing season.
"I'm still naïve enough that I try to respond," he said.
There was one family he didn't hear from, though, but he said he didn't need to.
In April, Hurdle met with members of the Clemente family in the dugout at PNC Park. "The boys are always asking questions and sharing their thoughts and their excitement," Hurdle said.
They had an issue on their mind: The Pirates cannot lose for a 21st consecutive season, thereby linking Roberto Clemente's jersey number to the worst losing streak in the history of North American professional sports.
"Pretty much look you in the eye and spoke from their heart that this is something they want us to take care of," Hurdle said. "Very meaningful.
"I got it that day loud and clear."
Warming up the grill
Jason Grilli embarked Wednesday on the road back to the closer's role, which the Pirates say he will eventually regain. He pitched a scoreless inning, allowing one hit and striking out two. His fastball hit 93 mph, his slider broke like it did before the injury and he completed his first major league outing since July 22 in good health.
"Velocity was firm, threw a couple breaking balls, but he felt amped up and in a hurry, so he just stayed more with the fastballs and move them around," Hurdle said.
The outing, though, came in the eighth inning of a game in which the Pirates trailed, 9-3, as Hurdle works Grilli slowly back into higher-leverage situations.
"When they give me the ball, I'm going to pitch and face some big league hitters and be the guy that I was and that everybody knows me as," Grilli said.
Grilli, 36, saved 30 games before missing a month and a half because of a flexor strain in his right arm.
He made two rehab outings with Class AA Altoona and made the day of some fans there in the process.
"I did my work and I promised some kids I would sign for them that I didn't frankly have enough time for," he said. "I felt horrible about that."
Two days later, he saw the same kids again. "I just hopped the fence. I didn't have anything to do. It was a 12 noon game. I love and respect the game and I know those fans appreciated it. It was fun to see the reaction of the people."
Looking ahead to Texas
The Pirates play their final interleague series this week when they travel to Texas to face the Rangers in a three-game series starting Monday.
The Rangers, like the Pirates, are in a tight race for the division title. Entering Thursday night's games, they were tied with the Oakland Athletics atop the AL West. They went 14-14 in June and 11-15 in July, but a 20-7 record in August vaulted them back to the top.
Overshadowed at times by Yu Darvish, Rangers starter Derek Holland has an exceptional season going. Holland's 1842/3 innings lead the club, and his 3.07 ERA is second only to Darvish's 2.91 mark.
Despite losing Nelson Cruz to the Biogenesis suspensions in early August, the Rangers led Major League Baseball in August with 159 runs scored. Third baseman Adrian Beltre, hitting .322 with 28 home runs, has helped their cause. Beltre hit .381 with a .479 on-base percentage and .577 slugging percentage in August and slugged five home runs in the month.
First Published September 8, 2013 4:00 AM