Kevin Gorman: Pirates’ performance at PNC Park critical on and off the field
The Pittsburgh Pirates reached an important milestone Tuesday night with a 5-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs, one that tends to be symbolic of (and necessary for) a successful season.
They reached the .500 mark at PNC Park.
Lost amid the hoopla over Adam Frazier’s four-double game Monday and seven consecutive hits over the past two games is that the Pirates improved their home record to 19-19. That makes Wednesday’s game against the Cubs a pivotal one, as the Pirates haven’t had a winning home record since a 5-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on May 7.
If the Pirates are going to contend for a wild-card playoff spot, let alone the NL Central title — and they are only four games out of first place and three games back in the wild-card race — they need to play better at home. And they need to beat division opponents, as 15 of their next 18 games are against the Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals and nine of those games are at PNC Park.
The Pirates can thank a six-game home winning streak – if they are even aware of their recent run. Frazier wasn’t when I told him about it. Then again, he’s locked in a zone, with nine hits in his last 10 at-bats. But the Pirates are well aware of how they were underperforming at home until the last two weeks.
They had lost 10 of 14 at PNC Park before their seven-run rally for an 8-7 win over Detroit on June 19 that could be the turning point of their season. The streak includes a three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres and two wins over the Cubs, who dropped to second place. The Pirates averaged crowds of 28,553 for the three-game series against the Padres but averaged only 16,173 the past two games. They are hoping that attendance will increase with winning.
“If they show out, that gives us more energy to play well. Everybody loves playing in front of a big crowd, so that helps,” Frazier said. “Our last home stand against the Padres, the stadium was filled. We had a lot of energy in the stadium and that helps, no doubt about that. We fed off that and took into the road trip and won some games. Now we’re back home and I feel like we’re hitting our stride a little bit.”
Of the nine teams with losing home records, only the Boston Red Sox (20-22 at Fenway Park) have a winning overall record (45-40). Five teams with losing overall records have a winning mark at home, including NL Central division opponents St. Louis Cardinals (24-18) and Cincinnati Reds (22-19).
“It’s always important to be able to play well at home,” Pirates pitcher Joe Musgrove said. “For one, you want to give your fans a good show and you want to defend your own turf.
“But we seem to play well on the road, better than we do at home. To be able to turn that around when we’re at an environment that we know best and we play in regularly, it’s nice to get things back on the right track here.”
The Pirates have had a losing record at PNC Park in only two seasons in manager Clint Hurdle’s eight seasons. They went 36-45 in 2011 and 38-42 in ’16, but won 50 games or more at home for three consecutive seasons from 2013-15 and won 44 games at home each of the past two seasons.
“This has been a real sweet place for us to play over the years,” Hurdle said. “So it’s always been a place where we’ve had a lot of confidence playing with the fan support we get here playing at home. It’s a bit of a work in progress. …
“We got underneath it for awhile but we’re starting to trend back up and perform better and it’s helped us win games. We’ll see if we can continue to move this thing forward and play like we have in the past.”
If the Pirates want win fans back, they need to win at PNC Park.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .