Pirates notebook: Banister's gift provides Martin extra 'energy'
Shortly before the Pirates took the field Tuesday for their wild-card playoff game against the Cincinnati Reds, bench coach Jeff Banister went up to every player in the clubhouse and handed him a small, black star. In the center was a gold “P” – a Stargell star.
The stickers were like those handed out by Hall of Famer Willie Stargell during the Pirates' magical 1979 World Series run.
“I've been holding on to them for a long time,” Banister said. “I felt it was time. I said, ‘Let's take a little bit of Willie out on the field tonight and see where it takes us.' ”
Catcher Russell Martin slugged two home runs — a Stargellesque performance — with that star stuck to his cap.
“Banny told us Pops would be with us, and it felt like he was with me tonight,” Martin said. “I definitely had some type of energy around me tonight that helped me out.”
Banister has been with the Pirates for nearly three decades. Stargell was one of his role models as a young player in the mid-1980s.
“He took the time to teach me a lot about baseball and about life,” Banister said. “What it meant to be a baseball player and what it means to be Pittsburgh Pirate.”
The day before the National League wild card game, a few Pirates players — notably A.J. Burnett and Andrew McCutchen — first mentioned they'd like to see a “Blackout” at PNC Park for the game against the Cincinnati Reds.
The fans responded. Aside from a few brave souls wearing red, the bleachers, box seats and suites were packed with folks wearing black t-shirts, jerseys and caps.
“What's been most fun for me has been seeing the reaction of this fan base and the reaction of this city,” owner Bob Nutting said during pregame batting practice. “To be able to bring tonight's game back to Pittsburgh … I can't wait for the first pitch, to see this ballpark erupt, welcoming this team back home. That's really what the whole point has been since day one.”
Kudos for Hurdle
Baseball's major awards will be announced a few days after the World Series. McCutchen has been a front-runner for NL MVP. Over the final couple of months, support began to grow for Clint Hurdle as NL Manager of the Year.
“Hurdle has been very positive,” ESPN analyst Alex Cora said. “He kept preaching the process. The (players) really took it to heart and did it on the field. And when you talk about the Pirates, although they have great talent, I think about Hurdle. He's the leader of that team.”
The Pirates' roster included only two starting pitchers: left-hander Francisco Liriano and righty Gerrit Cole. That's not unusual, as rosters can be reshuffled from round to round.
The other seven pitchers on the roster were bullpen regulars Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris, Tony Watson and Justin Wilson. Two notable names left off the roster were Kyle Farnsworth (a late-season addition who pitched well down the stretch) and Jared Hughes (who struggled all season and was used sparingly in the second half).
Position players on the bench were outfielders Travis Snider and Jose Tabata; catchers John Buck and Tony Sanchez; and infielders Josh Harrison, Garrett Jones, Jordy Mercer and Gaby Sanchez.
Baker battles back
Reds manager Dusty Baker, 64, is proud of his team for making its third trip to the postseason in four years, and he's proud of himself for coming as far as he has since suffering a mini-stroke last year. At this time last year, Baker said, he was two weeks removed from the stroke, and being interviewed was difficult.
“There were a lot of things I couldn't think of and a lot of times I couldn't put things into words the way I'd like to,” Baker said. “That's one thing I'm very thankful for because last year at this time, my family and I were apprehensive and nervous.”
Are you experienced?
Only five Pirates had been in a postseason game before Tuesday: Clint Barmes (2009 with the Rockies), Grilli (2006 Tigers), Liriano (2009-10 Twins), Martin (2006, 2008-09 Dodgers and 2011-12 Yankees) and Justin Morneau (2004 and 2006 Twins).
Another playoff venue
The Pirates and Phillies are the only teams to play postseason home games at four different ballparks in their city. The Pirates did so at Exposition Park, Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park. The Phillies used the Baker Bowl, Shibe Park, Veterans Stadium and Citizens Bank Park.