ShareThis Page

Hurdle: Bucs mentally ready for one-game playoff

| Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, 10:12 p.m.
Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau leaves the field with Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and manager Clint Hurdle after defeating the Reds on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau leaves the field with Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and manager Clint Hurdle after defeating the Reds on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI — Clint Hurdle often says “the game doesn't know the game is important.” The Pirates manager uses the psychological trick to encourage players to relax through context. But everyone in the Pirate clubhouse knows Tuesday's wild-card affair is the most important game in the franchise's past two decades.

One of the challenges facing the Reds and Pirates in the one-game playoff is not of the physical variety but of the psychological: How do players avoid trying to do too much in the one-game playoff? How do players remain focused and not let the moment overwhelm them at PNC Park?

With such high stakes, Hurdle finds himself playing sports psychologist as much as manager.

“We all know what happens when you overcook things, so don't put added pressure on yourself.” Hurdle said. “There's different reset mechanisms. The term is transferring — transferring your focus, getting your focus off the big picture and being task specific. That's what we encourage them to do.”

Hurdle identified several examples of “reset mechanisms.”

• Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria steps out of the box and looks down at the left-field foul pole to reset his focus.

• For a pitcher, resetting might mean stepping off the mound and picking up and throwing down a rosin bag.

• Many hitters step out of the batter's box and take deep inhales and exhales to slow heartbeats. Said Hurdle: “There are actually breathing patterns we talk about during the offseason. We brought (specialists) in. It's called four-by-four breathing.”

What there is no reset mechanism for is experience, and the Pirates have less postseason experience than the Reds, who fell one win short of advancing to the NLCS last season.

“What you did previously doesn't matter, and what you didn't do previously doesn't matter,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “Now you're starting the season all over. People are afraid of the one-game playoff. Well, that's not the way I would have chosen to get in there, but we're in. How many teams are in? Five? Right? We're one of five. You have to look at it like that.”

Francisco Liriano, the starter Tuesday for the Pirates, has appeared in two postseason games, allowing five runs in 7 23 innings while with the Twins.

“There's no simulator to get into,” Hurdle said. “But what we've had is close to 95 games decided by two runs or less this season. We've had big games, big crowds and that all helps.”

Two Pirates players have experience in playing one-game playoffs: Justin Morneau and Clint Barmes.

Morneau played in a one-game playoff with the Twins in 2009 vs. Detroit. The Twins won to advance to the postseason.

“You look at all the coverage for the playoffs and (media promoting) ‘Who is going to be a hero?' where in reality people who try to do the same, as opposed to the ones who try to do more, they usually do pretty well,” Morneau said. “The thing I learned from playing in that game is trying not to do anything different.”

Of course that's easier said than done, says Barmes who was part of the 2007 Rockies team beat the Padres in a 163rd game.

“It's a whole different feel,” Barmes said. “You're in every pitch. The crowd is in every pitch. It's exciting. It's fun. But at the same time, trying not to do much, guys staying within in themselves is (tough).”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.