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Pirates notebook: McClatchy receives warm welcome

| Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, 3:21 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Former Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy throws out the first pitch Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, before Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals at PNC Park.

When he walked onto the field Sunday afternoon at PNC Park, Kevin McClatchy brought along his old high school mitt and Willie Stargell's memory.

The former owner of the Pirates threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 3 of the National League Division Series. Before he threw a high strike to catcher Tony Sanchez, McClatchy pointed to the No. 8 on his black jersey — Stargell's retired uniform number — then pointed toward the sky.

“I called Willie's widow, Margaret, as I was coming over the bridge,” McClatchy said. “I told her I'd be wearing No. 8 on my jersey and also in my heart. I know Willie's up there, smiling and laughing.”

McClatchy bought the Pirates in February 1996, kept the franchise in Pittsburgh and was instrumental in getting PNC built. After Nutting took control of the team in January 2007, McClatchy agreed to stay in the background.

“I felt like I was a little estranged from the team, but it was mostly my doing,” McClatchy said. “I didn't want to get in people's way. But this feels like coming home. I remember when we brought Willie Stargell back in (as an advisor), and he got really emotional. Now I sort of understand what that emotion is. Now I feel like I'm back. This is home.”

It was Nutting who asked McClatchy to throw out the first pitch.

“Bob called me and said, ‘I have an idea …' and I about fell out of my chair,” McClatchy said. “I was a little surprised but thrilled. I put a lot of my heart and soul into this place, and now it's like seeing your child grow up.”

McClatchy admitted he was a little worried he would hear boos from the sellout crowd. Many of the fans gave him a standing ovation.

“No question about it, I was nervous,” McClatchy said. “But it was great to get a great reaction from the fans. I'm one of them now.”

That sinking feeling

Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton, who will start Game 4 of the National League Division Series, has other tools at his disposal, but he has become one of those pitchers who is identified with one pitch. And it is working pretty well.

“The past few seasons I've become primarily a sinker-ball pitcher,” Morton said. “I don't know if I throw it 70 or 75 percent of the time. I usually get about 70 percent groundballs on the one pitch alone.”

But, he added, “I think my curveball has come a long way during the offseason and during the rehab process (from Tommy John surgery).”

It's a kid's game

Another rookie pitcher making an impact is Cardinals righty Michael Wacha, who will take a 2.78 ERA in nine starts into Game 4.

Wacha has not pitched since Sept. 24, when he one-hit the Nationals in a 2-0, complete-game victory. Ryan Zimmerman broke up the no-hitter with two out in the bottom of the ninth.

Wacha has ascended quickly. He was the 19th pick in the 2012 draft out of Texas A&M.

“Every single minor leaguer, they're kind of preached on that whenever you get up to St. Louis, you're expected to win,” he said. “So they preach on that down in the minor leagues, that we're here to win ball games.”

When he's not pitching Monday, Wacha said he will sit in the dugout next to Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, the Game 1 winner on Thursday.

“We talk during the game about pitch sequences, that kind of stuff,” he said. “Just watching Wainwright go out there a couple of nights ago and watching the way he attacked the zone, really, he was in pitcher's counts a lot. That's what I take from it.”

Alvarez not weary

Pedro Alvarez played in a career-high 152 games this season, and has been in the lineup every day since Sept. 4. Even in the final game of the season, when all the other regulars got the day off, Alvarez played the first six innings in order to chase the home run title.

“Pedro hasn't needed many (off days) lately,” Hurdle said. “We've put the whip to him down the stretch.”

Over the final 24 games of the season, Alvarez batted .238 with four homers, 14 RBI and a .742 base-plus slugging percentage. Over the wild-card and first three NLDS games, he has gone 4 for 13 with two homers, five RBI and a 1.221 OPS.

Beating the traffic

Asked about the proliferation of good, young pitchers in Major League Baseball, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the trend began about six years ago. He has good reason for recalling it.

“I can't remember a time — probably from 2000 to at least 2007 on — where it hasn't continued to ramp up and get better,” Hurdle said.

That was the season Colorado, managed by Hurdle, got a boost from rookie pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez, who came up from the minors in July, and Franklin Morales, who joined the Rockies in August.

“They were integral parts of that rotation, getting us in the playoffs and World Series,” Hurdle said. “Other teams have them just as well. I think this part of the game has continued to have a little more efficient HOV lane as far as getting players to the big leagues. We've seen some position players make the transition, as well, but never before the volume of pitchers you're seeing.”

With all respect to Jimenez and Morales, they did not come close to what rookie Gerrit Cole is doing for the Pirates. Cole, the Game 2 winner against the Cardinals, can make a case for being one of the Pirates' top two starters. Maybe even the best.

Cards face must-win

The Cardinals have come back before. In 2012, they scored four runs in the ninth inning to beat Washington, 9-7, and take the deciding game of the NLDS. The year before, they trailed Philadelphia, 2 games to 1, but came back to advance to the NLCS.

“It's now or never,” catcher Yadier Molina said. “They have a great team. ... We have a great team, also. It's gonna be fun (Monday).”

Beltran shines again

Carlos Beltran was not impressed that he hit the first Cardinals home run this season at PNC Park.

“You don't come to the ballpark trying to hit home runs,” the St. Louis center fielder said.

Maybe others should try. That small statistical note belied big problems for the NL Central champs, who are one game from elimination.

Beltran's solo shot off Mark Melancon in the eighth inning tied the game at 3-3 and was his 16th career postseason homer, passing Babe Ruth for eighth place. Beltran also has the highest OPS in history.

But he was just about the only source of offense for the Cardinals. He drove in two runs with a fifth inning single off Francisco Liriano, and nothing else was forthcoming. After beating the Pirates, 9-1, in the series opener, they scored one run in a loss on Friday.

Rob Biertempfel and Bob Cohn are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach Biertempfel at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com and Cohn at bcohn@tribweb.com.

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