Manager Clint Hurdle has a phrase for most situations, and Wednesday night was no different.
"As I shared with the men in the locker room, their futures, individually and collectively, are in good hands," Hurdle said after the Pirates were eliminated from the playoffs. "All they've got to do is look at the end of their arms, because that's where their hands are. They've worked their backsides off this year, and I'm proud of each and every one of them."
Less than a half hour after their elimination, in a 6-1 loss against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, the players seemed to understand Hurdle's sentiment. There was frustration, sure, but there was also appreciation.
"[The players] make it fun to show up to the ballpark and go to battle and go to work with these guys as a whole," shortstop Clint Barmes said. "We obviously fell a little short of what we wanted to do, but we have a great group of guys and a lot of talent. It's going to be interesting to see what happens this winter."
Barmes is a free agent, as are pitcher A.J. Burnett, first baseman Justin Morneau and outfielder Marlon Byrd. Free agents can negotiate with any club starting the sixth day after the World Series concludes.
In the clubhouse after the loss Wednesday night, the talk was not about looking ahead, but about saying goodbye to teammates and reflecting on what had happened.
"Obviously, going home and not playing another day stings," said third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who went 6 for 17 with three home runs in the five-game series. "Unfortunately, we were on the losing end today. Just like everything else, we have to feed off of this and learn from this and keep gaining experience."
Not only did the Pirates understand what they had done, but they also understood they completed the return to relevancy that started the previous two seasons before being foiled by late-season slides.
"We were able to take a huge step forward this year in restoring the pride and the passion of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, and rebonding our city with a ball team," Hurdle said. "It was evident during the wild-card game and through the playoffs of the hunger and the passion that our fans have for the local team."
The Pirates also displayed newfound prowess in the NL Central. They finished the season series against the Cardinals at 12-12, including the five games in the NLDS. They took 11 of 19 against Cincinnati Reds, 12 of 19 against Milwaukee.
"We tip our hat to the Cardinals," Hurdle said. "I think this rivalry has turned into something baseball can be proud of. It's become a rivalry for all the right reasons. Professional respect, the way the game is played, the effort."
The Pirates have work ahead of them in the offseason. They will make an effort to re-sign Burnett, and they have several interesting arbitration cases on the horizon. They also will look at first base and right field, two areas where their offensive production fell below average.
The players credited their teammates with providing support throughout the season.
"It's been a great year," Barmes said. "It's been a good year all around. This group pulled together, and we moved in the same direction all season long. There's a lot of guys in this clubhouse that battled a lot of stuff, a lot of adversity, throughout the season.
"Nobody really went astray and went their own way. For the most part, every guy in here was trying to pick each other up, and that's what good teams do."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published October 10, 2013 8:00 PM