Starkey: Pirates want more than just a wild-card win
By Joe Starkey
Published: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, 10:09 p.m.
CINCINNATI — Clint Hurdle had a Herman Edwards moment Saturday while addressing the notion that his team is playing with “house money.”
In a sense, it's true: No matter what the Pirates do from here on out, their season will and should be deemed a smashing success. But that kind of assessment will come from the outside — from those engaged in “external conversations,” as Hurdle likes to say.
Internally, there is no such thing as house money, save for the tips players hand to clubhouse attendants.
“You play to win the World Series,” Hurdle said, a few hours before his team hammered the Cincinnati Reds, 8-3, and thus assured Pittsburgh of a home playoff game for the first time in 21 years. “You don't play to get in the ALCS. You don't play to get in the NLDS. You don't play to get in the wild-card game. You play to win the World Series.”
Hurdle mentioned that as a player he'd participated in the postseason several times early in his career and “just thought it was part of the deal.”
It's not, of course. Nobody has guaranteed playoff appearances, let alone championships, written into his contract. Exhibit A is Dan Marino, who made it to the Super Bowl his second season and never made it back. It took Hurdle 26 years to return to the postseason after his 1981 appearance as a player with the Kansas City Royals.
Veteran first baseman Justin Morneau has not played in the World Series. Marlon Byrd and John Buck have logged more than 2,200 games combined but have never walked to the plate in a postseason game.
Maybe that's why Byrd looked at me as if I were crazy when I wondered how badly he longed for a “taste” of playoff baseball.
“Taste? We want the whole thing,” Byrd said. “Win the whole thing. That's it.”
Some people painted the Pirates as the classic “just-happy-to-be-here” team after they popped champagne on their playoff-clinching night in Chicago. That was unfair. This team — this franchise — deserved to commemorate that monumental feat any way it chose.
“It was our turn to celebrate what this team has done,” Buck said. “After that clubhouse thing, it was, ‘Let's get back to business.' ”
The way Hurdle sees it, each new achievement must be acknowledged. It's all new ground. Important stuff. What's the point if you can't enjoy it?
“Stay in the moment,” Hurdle says.
That can be done while keeping the ultimate goal at hand. The Pirates clubhouse showed no signs of self-satisfaction after the game. Andrew McCutchen matter-of-factly talked about the significance of the win, essentially saying, well, it's better to play at home than on the road. The Pirates prefer it that way. Francisco Liriano undoubtedly prefers it more than anyone.
McCutchen also acknowledged the enthusiastic cheering section behind the Pirates dugout Saturday. Those were the people chanting “Let's Go Bucs!” as Bryan Morris recorded the final three outs.
“It was great to have their support here in Cincinnati,” McCutchen said. “They were just as happy as we were.”
Neil Walker, who smashed two home runs off Bronson Arroyo, predicted the atmosphere Tuesday night at PNC Park will be “Steeler-esque.” He meant that as a compliment.
It's going to be nutty on the North Shore. Every moment should be savored as the city welcomes in the baseball world and the Pirates look to solve Johnny Cueto.
But make no mistake: Anything short of victory will be wholly unacceptable to every single man that wears a Pirates uniform.
They're playing to win the World Series.
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