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Biertempfel: Pirates will see plenty of Cardinals in final quarter of season

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen scores past Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina on April 15, 2013 at PNC Park.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Sunday, July 28, 2013, 12:03 a.m.
 

Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke usually doesn't watch many baseball games on TV after the regular season ends. But on those nights when he stretches out on the couch at his offseason home in New Hampshire and clicks the remote, Locke already knows which team will appear on the screen.

The Cardinals have played in the postseason in nine of the past 13 years. They've made three trips to the World Series in that span, winning championships in 2006 and 2011.

“I'm sitting at home, and the Cardinals are always on,” Locke said. “I'm tired of watching them play in October.”

This year, Locke can do something about it.

After Sunday's game against the Marlins, the Pirates will have 59 games left to play. Fourteen of those — nearly a quarter of the remaining schedule — will be against the Cardinals.

Things will ramp up in a hurry Monday, when the Cards come to PNC Park. Four days. Five games, including a rainout makeup doubleheader. The top two teams in the NL Central, already jockeying for playoff position.

“We all know how big that series will be,” reliever Tony Watson said. “It will be fun. It should be a good atmosphere. Any time you play five games in four days, you've got to grind through it.”

The Cardinals are looking ahead to the showdown, too. At the All-Star Game, the Pirates' and Cardinals' lockers were bunched together in one corner of the National League clubhouse. At one point, Cards ace Adam Wainwright turned and smiled at Locke.

“Big series coming up,” Wainwright said.

“I agree,” Locke replied.

“It can really swing one way or the other, for other team,” Wainwright said.

“You're right about that,” Locke said.

The two pitchers looked at each other for a moment, and the conversation ended. But each guy's unspoken message was the same: Bring it.

“It's going to be awesome, man,” Pirates closer Jason Grilli said a few days ago in Washington. “It's the battle we want. They're the big, bad Cardinals, the superpower of our division, and the pressure is on them. It's not on us.”

Grilli was already plenty amped up merely thinking about the upcoming series, but he won't get the chance to pitch in it. A few hours after talking to me, Grilli injured his right forearm and went on the 15-day disabled list.

Since he was hired as manager before the 2011 season, Clint Hurdle has preached hard to his players about staying in the moment. Don't get caught looking ahead and don't worry about the games that already have passed by. The message is the same for this monster series against the Cardinals.

And yet ...

“We always say we don't look too far ahead and we don't talk about yesterday, and I get that,” Locke said. “But it's tough to go home, turn on the TV and not see something baseball-related. It's hard to not see the standings on the scoreboard when you're out on the field stretching. We know where we are and where the Cardinals are.

“So, yeah, I'm excited to throw in this series. You always want to pitch against the best teams out there. Why would you not want to?”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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