Weekly errands for Clint Hurdle usually turn into more than just a visit to the dry cleaner, the barber shop or the grocery store.
The trips serve as barometers for what’s happening in his professional life, the Pirates manager said, because everywhere he goes people like to share what they’re thinking and feeling about his team at that moment.
On Wednesday morning, after his team swept a doubleheader the day before to take the first three of a five-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Hurdle walked into his local Starbucks and got a standing ovation.
His team got one of its own from the 31,679 fans at PNC Park later that night as they took the field in the ninth inning following Russell Martin’s two-out RBI single in the eighth that broke a 4-4 tie. Relievers Vin Mazzaro, Tony Watson and closer Mark Melancon combined for four scoreless innings, and the Pirates beat the Cardinals again, 5-4.
Only one game remains in the most anticipated series of the season so far, a five-in-four-days affair that has allowed the Pirates to not only leapfrog their NL Central rivals for the division lead but also earn the best record in baseball.
“I think we’re opening up a lot of eyes,” said starting pitcher Jeff Locke, of Conway, N.H. “We’re not a joke. We’re not that team that people want to make us be from the last two years. We’re competing every time out. I’ve never been around a team in my life that competes for nine innings like these guys do.”
Facing NL wins leader Adam Wainwright, the Pirates had to claw their way back to tie the game in the fifth inning after the Cardinals chased Locke after four innings and 89 pitches. It was Locke’s shortest outing of the season, and he gave up a career-worst 10 hits.
But even though it was the most off-and-on Hurdle said he’s seen Locke, the four runs allowed didn’t equal a death sentence for his teammates.
“Of course I came out of the game frustrated, but there wasn’t one moment where I thought we weren’t going to win,” Locke said. “You just know what you’ve got with these guys every time out. At the end of the day, I wasn’t crying about it and saying we’re not going to win today because I didn’t do good. I know for a fact these guys are going to fight for nine. That’s what we did, and that’s why we’ve been winning.”
Locke gave up a pair of runs on four singles in a 30-pitch first inning to give the Cardinals their first lead of the series. Coming into the game, the left-hander had been charged with three or fewer earned runs in each of his last 17 starts and 18 of 20 overall.
Neil Walker hit his first home run since June 26 in the bottom of the third inning to make it 3-2, and Clint Barmes hit a two-out double to drive in a run in the fourth to make it 4-3. The Bucs tied it in the fifth on a sac fly by Andrew McCutchen.
that scored Starling Marte.
“I think our offense has sharpened up since we’ve gotten home,” Hurdle said. “We fought and scratched, stayed in the shadow until we tied it then got one up on them late.”