Clint Hurdle slammed both palms down onto PNC Park's press conference table, and in the same motion he rose up to leave the room.
He wasn't pleased.
He's been the manager in these parts since late 2010, nearly a full decade now. And if he'd ever had such a moment in all that time, with anyone, for any reason, I hadn't witnessed it with my own eyes. And never expected to.
But damn, good for him.
Here's the pretext: His Pirates had lost 28 of 35 games since the All-Star break, one of the worst stretches in the franchise's 133-year history. They'd lost the previous three games while squeezing out a single run. They'd lost the previous night by 13. And then, on this Tuesday night against the Nationals, they'd lost Chris Archer after one inning to a shoulder injury. But the bullpen picked up the cause beautifully, Starling Marte slugged a three-run home run in the eighth, and the Pirates prevailed, 4-1.
Now, here's the context of the actual moment: Near the end of the postgame media session, Hurdle was asked a relatively innocuous question by a local reporter about whether such a victory could help energize or galvanize his team.
He hates that type of question. Always has. In any context, positive or negative. In his view, the investment his players have in the process isn't negotiable, isn't subject to the whims of one swing or another. So I had a pretty good idea how he'd respond.
Just not like this ...
"It's unfortunate you can't be in the dugout every night because you have no idea," Hurdle began, looking at the reporter. "The vibe doesn't match the record. The effort and the energy don't match the record. We know that. You don't win games on vibe, and you don't games on effort. You win games with results. We got the right results tonight. However, that team's got no quit in them. They're going to fight. They're going to play."
After a second's pause, "And there's a code of honor that you play with when you get in the season, where we are right now. There's a code of honor you represent. They still represent the name on the front of the jersey. They still represent Pittsburgh. And they represent the name on the back. And that's what they're doing."
That's when the palms came crashing.
Here's the full podcast from 93.7 The Fan, the Pirates' flagship radio station:
Loved it. Can't say enough about it.
Say what anyone will about the record, the lineups, the bullpen calls and all else. Hurdle deserves his share of the blame for what's happened since the break, just as he deserved the accolades for what preceded it. But isn't it illuminating to hear from someone, anyone associated with the Pittsburgh Baseball Club illustrating that they care about what's happening?
Ask me, and it's well past time for Hurdle to start distancing himself from those over his head. Because they've already demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that they could never have a thought like the one Hurdle just shared, never mind expressing it with genuine emotion.
Man, I miss that guy.
• Hurdle had this to say about the game as a whole: “If you look at what all went on tonight, that was one of the best team victories we’ve had all year.”
That'll sound over the top in the context of being 8-28 since the All-Star break, but it's been an intense week around this team, to put it mildly. Everyone's emotional about one thing or another, and a lot of that's bubbled to the surface. Maybe sensing this, Hurdle held a team meeting before the game Monday ... and then watched Trevor Williams put up an eight-spot en route to a 13-0 loss.
At the same time, Archer getting hurt meant that the starters have given the Pirates three total innings the past two nights, and the bullpen had every cause to crumble. Instead, Clay Holmes went 3 2/3 and was charged with one run -- after being replaced by Michael Feliz -- and Richard Rodriguez and Felipe Vazquez each went 1 1/3 to wrap it up.
That, coupled with the bases-loaded rally to tie in the eighth, followed by the Marte bomb ... hey, give it to them.
• Hurdle called Holmes' appearance his "best all season," and I'm sure he didn't mean to damn him with faint praise. Fact is, although he's gotten his share of groundball outs, he also keeps exhibiting lackluster control. He walked four and hit a batter in this one, too. That's not going to amount to much.
• Is it too cynical to wonder if more caution shouldn't have been taken with Archer, given that our Matt Sunday noticed over the weekend -- and reported -- seeing Archer in the dugout having his throwing shoulder rubbed down and cringing throughout?
• As if Archer's exit weren't enough, then Vazquez goes for a long stroll behind the mound in some apparent discomfort, eventually drawing a visit from Hurdle and athletic trainer Bryan Housand. Turned out not to be anything -- he told me it was a back tweak he feels occasionally when overthrowing a breaking pitch -- and he'd soon ramp the fastball back up from 95 to 97 to 99.
Still, dude ...
• Not about to play doctor, but let's suppose Archer gets shut down with five weeks left in a hollow schedule. It would and should beg the question as to whether the Pirates should pick up his $8.25 million club option for 2020.
At least in theory.
Remember, we're talking about a minor-league system so bereft of talented arms that Mitch Keller isn't just the top pitching prospect ... he's the only pitching prospect. At least the only one who isn't 25 or older and, thus, not anyone's definition of an actual prospect. Top guy in Indianapolis is James Marvel, who'll turn 26 next month, and he was in Altoona until July. Maybe he'll make it to Pittsburgh as part of his retirement ceremony. Next top guy in Indianapolis is Brandon Waddell, who's 25 and also was just promoted from Altoona, and his five Class AAA starts have wrought a 9.59 ERA. Neither has significant stuff.
Archer's got to stay. And Keller's got to come through. And all the people who made this mess have got to be fired.
• All of them. Every. Last. One.
• Gregory Polanco (10-day IL, shoulder)
• Francisco Cervelli (60-day IL, concussion)
• Lonnie Chisenhall (60-day IL, now accepting Apple Pay)
Here's the most recent full report.
It's Musgrove, fresh off one of his finest starts all summer -- two runs and nine Ks over 7 1/3 innings vs. the Cubs -- against Washington lefty Patrick Corbin, who holds left-handed hitters to a .184 average, so look for a funky lineup tonight. First pitch is 7:05 p.m. Hunter Homistek will cover.
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