ShareThis Page

Pirates take a different road to same destination in 2014

| Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, 10:18 p.m.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle celebrates in the clubhouse with his team after defeating the Braves Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, at Turner Field in Atlanta.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle celebrates in the clubhouse with his team after defeating the Braves Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, at Turner Field in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — The out-of-town scoreboard at Turner Field rests high above left-field wall, and Pirates equipment manager Scott Bonnett watched it intently Tuesday as dusk turned to night.

When he saw the Milwaukee Brewers trailing in the seventh inning, he drifted back to the visiting clubhouse and began preparing the 120 bottles of champagne he had ordered. He filled plastic troughs typically used for Gatorade bottles with crushed ice. Encasing the lockers in plastic took 15 minutes.

The visitors clubhouse at Turner Field clubhouse held its 12th postseason clinching party Tuesday. The Brewers lost. The Pirates won, clinching back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since 1991-92.

Like when the club clinched a playoff berth exactly one year earlier at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the Pirates again soaked themselves and a visiting clubhouse carpet with champagne.

When the champagne was extinguished, they moved to Budweiser. Andrew McCutchen, John Axford and Ike Davis smoked cigars. Russell Martin recorded some of the madness on his smart phone camera. Neil Walker doused data analyst Mike Fitzgerald in beer.

The clinch again took place on the road. The clinch again came on a cool Sept. 23 night. But almost everything else was different.

The Pirates took a step back in preventing runs, but a step forward in creating them in 2014. They were once eight games under .500 in early May. They never had a losing month in 2013. They had a number of unexpected contributors arise from Josh Harrison to Vance Worley to John Hodlzkom to fill voids.

“We're a different group of guys,” reliever Jared Hughes said, “but getting back to the playoffs feels just as good.”

Nearly everyone uncorking champagne could feel they played a part. Last season, Harrison struggled to hang on as a 25th man. This season, he will receive MVP votes.

“We had guys come up and step in like we never missed a beat,” Harrison said. “From Day 1 in spring training Clint (Hurdle) said it's going to take us all.”

The Pirates manager was prophetic in March, just as he had been a year earlier when he predicted 95 wins.

“Everyone has had to contribute in some shape or form throughout the season,” Hurdle said. “Everyone has played a role. Everyone has been significant. No more significance when three-fifths of the starting rotation was out and (Brandon) Cumpton, (Jeff) Locke and Worley come up. And it wasn't just keeping our head above water, we got better.

“The development of the offense. The bullpen. We've had some ups and downs. On a bunch of different fronts we've gotten tremendous pushes from a bunch of different guys.”

Well, there were some similarities, as Gerrit Cole again was excellent in meaningful game as he had been last September, when he led the Pirates to win No. 82 in Texas. It was the beginning of a remarkable September for the rookie.

After struggling early, Cole settled down and was excellent, retiring 17 in a row to end his night.

The Pirates wore every variety of protective eyewear one could think of last season in the cramped Wrigley Field clubhouse, and they traveled with 85 pairs of goggles to Atlanta. But just as this is a different team, there were different approaches to soaking in the atmosphere. Tony Watson, who recorded the final three outs, went goggle-less. Said Watson: “I'm going to let it burn.”

The path to the second straight clinch was different, and so was the on-field celebration.

One year ago to the day, the Pirates clinched dramatically at Wrigley Field and formed a mob in the infield. On Tuesday, the on-field celebration was subdued.

No mosh pit, rather high fives were exchanged as if it was a victory in late May. As the postgame celebration calmed in the clubhouse, a soaked Pirates general manager Neal Huntington found a soaked Harrison. They embraced, and Harrison said something that summed up the mood of the club: “We still have work to do.”

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.

click me