Reliever Hanrahan's success rooted in fun
Same stuff, same delivery, same fastball, same slider.
What's the difference between the Joel Hanrahan who flopped two years ago and the lockdown closer who'll represent the Pirates at the All-Star Game on Tuesday?
"I realize it's a game now," Hanrahan said. "It's what I grew up loving, dying to play and missing school. If you take the fun out of it and think of it as life-and-death situations, it's a job. It's stressful. If you clear your mind and relax, you can remember it's a game and have fun."
It's a lesson that manager Clint Hurdle can appreciate because he also struggled with taking the game too seriously during his playing days.
Hurdle was a first-round draft pick in 1975 and touted as a can't-miss kid by Sports Illustrated. In his first two years in the majors, Hurdle hit a mere .257.
"My performance got cleaner and I had more fun when I could get back to the fact that I was playing a game," Hurdle said. "It's all part of the maturing process. You've got to have some joy in what you do. There's got to be a reason you do what you do other than the win.
"If it's all about winning, it will not last. You'll make bad decisions. You won't stick to your integrity, your character. You'll sell out. It's gotta be a bigger picture involved."
Hanrahan said the team has bought into that message — which helps explain the Pirates' dramatic first-half success.
"Spring training was the time we focused on getting everything right, all the drills and little details," Hanrahan said. "Now we're still doing that stuff, but we're having fun doing it. After a loss, we're not 25 guys sitting at their lockers, saying, 'What the heck just happened?' We're having fun out there."
Planet of the aches
Left fielder Jose Tabata (strained quad) is headed today to Bradenton, Fla. He'll work out at Pirate City for a couple of days, then begin a rehab assignment with High-A Bradenton. ... Reliever Evan Meek still is in the "strengthening phase" of his recovery from shoulder tendinitis, said general manager Neal Huntington. Meek, who has been out since mid-June, is at Pirate City but has not resumed throwing.
Hurdle had high praise for Pedro Ciriaco and Neil Walker, who each used an athletic slide in the four-run eighth inning Friday that upended the Chicago Cubs. Ciriaco, a pinch-runner, broke up a double play by barrelling into second base. Walker scored with a hook slide to evade a tag at the plate.
"It was the Jackie Robinson hook slide for years," Hurdle said. "It disappeared for years, and people went straight-in, head-first or feet-first. Somewhere back in the late '90s, it started happening again. You see kids doing it in Little League."
Hurdle believes a great hook slide is instinctual.
"It's not like guys practice it a lot," he said. "In spring training, we did some work on it. But it's not like we get them out here every afternoon and say, 'OK, everyone take 10 slides.' "