Collier: Pirates trying to find focus on a fuzzy miracle


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Five years ago this week, Clint Hurdle was managing a seriously nondescript baseball team, a team going nowhere slowly, a team virtually nobody outside of its own roster would today remember had not a baseball miracle turned up in its back pocket.

That's where Hurdle is again at this hard-by-hopeless moment, at some ghostly intersection of almost the exact dimensions of calendar and won-loss record.

And again, he's groping for a miracle.

Like there's a choice.

"We were in survival mode; it was very similar, just a handful of games above .500," the Pirates manager remembered about that team three hours before the start of a desperate series with the Milwaukee Brewers. "One of the writers asked me, 'What do you have to do,' and I laughed and said, 'We have to win out.' "

The 2007 Colorado Rockies did not win out.

What they did was win 13 of their final 14 games, and 21 of 22 on the way to, of all things, the World Series.

"When it started, it wasn't exactly a situation where there was some momentum building," Hurdle said. "There was a lot of focus on whether we'd finally get to .500 locally [the Rockies hadn't had a winning season in seven years], a lot of focus on what a disappointing season it had been.

"The focus was all over the place."

While that might not be one of the top five definitions of focus, exactly, the focus for Hurdle's 2012 Pirates in their final relevant hours doesn't look much like focus either.

Or were those seven stolen bases last night against Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry and the Pirates' feckless pitchers the focus?

At one point in this still-somehow-critical best-of-three, Milwaukee had six times as many stolen bases as the Pirates had hits. At an earlier point, the point at which starter A.J. Burnett had thrown his first 45 pitches, he'd gotten exactly three outs.

I'm no expert, but those are the wrong kinds of miracles. Nothing right there qualifies you for accelerated beatification, I don't believe.

McKenry walked up to pinch hit with the bases loaded and the Pirates trailing, 4-0, in the seventh inning, a situation with vaguely miraculous undertones, but he fouled off a fastball from Jim Henderson right down Broadway, then popped out to second.

Maybe this is what happens when you try to force a miracle.

Maybe Major League Baseball should have asked its member clubs if they shared the same enthusiasm for a second wild card for the postseason that had so delighted the home office.

This is the wild card nobody seems to want, one the few logical conclusions from the fact that these Pirates lost 12 of their most recent 18 games coming into this series, and actually gained a half game in the wild-card standings.

That the Pirates and the Brewers arrived at this midweek series with the same record and the same opportunity, such as it was, to vault into that final playoff spot, the potential gravity of it all managed to intrigue only 15,492 into actually paying to see the first game Tuesday night.

Apparently there just aren't enough miracles in anyone's imagination around here to visualize a meaningful Pirates-Brewers series for anything but what so many meaningless precursors have always been.

Floggings.

When the series started, Milwaukee had won its past four games against the Pirates dating to Aug. 26, and only 66 of its past 90 dating to 2007.

On the baseball landscape of intradivisional play, nobody has so routinely and wantonly abused a divisional opponent the way the Brewers have flogged the Pirates over that span.

This fifth consecutive Brewers win (combined score: 37-13) means Milwaukee has erupted from another seriously nondescript place to win 21 of its past 27, which is not to say that it's a viable postseason player necessarily, only that it makes Hurdle's team look like a laughingstock by comparison.

The Pirates managed three hits over just three hours and 24 minutes, one of them, coincidentally, by shortstop Clint Barmes, who just happened to play 27 games for those 2007 Rockies.

That doesn't even rise to the level or irony, just as the Pirates' comportment in September (4-12) doesn't rise to the level of professional comportment, much less any compelling definition of focus.

Join us tonight when the Pirates again attempt a 75th win, most around here in nine years. It's no miracle. It's more like miracle whipped.

genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com. First Published September 19, 2012 4:00 AM


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