By Chris Mueller
PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — It’s been mentioned by Gene Collier in the Post-Gazette already, but I feel the need to reiterate the idea that the Pirates’ series to open this season against the Cubs was significant beyond the fact that they took two out of three games. It showed us that Clint Hurdle cares. More than anything this is important because it means the Pirates might win more than 17 games on the road.
The Pirates were 40-41 at home last year. That’s not good for a contending team, but for a squad that only won 57 games, it’s alarming. As in, it’s alarming that a team could be so decent at home, and so abysmal on the road. Wins away from home are always supposed to be harder to obtain, and because only the quirks of the individual park change and you’re not seeing a completely different team than the one you play in your own building, you could say that winning away from home has a lot to do with attitude.
Clint Hurdle has some attitude. He’s willing to fight for his players. He went out and had conversations. He was less than thrilled about a few out/safe calls, and about Garrett Jones having a beer accidentally dumped on his head. He wasn’t going to be a picture of passivity like John Russell was last season. He stood up and made a scene. His players seemed to follow suit.
I’m not a big believer in the idea that good managers are worth several wins per season. I think they can help a mindset and tutor players in how to play the game better, but the guys on the field still decide it. That said, the players clearly seem to like emulating their manager. Neil Walker took a chance and took an extra base in Sunday’s rubber match, and the Pirates won the game because of it. That’s not waiting for something good to happen, that’s standing up and doing something about it. That flies in the face of everything JR ever stood for.
The Pirates, sad to say, still probably won’t be very “good” in the traditional sense this year. They’ll almost certainly lose many more games than they win. But for most Pirates fans, this season isn’t about wins and losses, it’s about seeing signs that better days are just ahead. And while I won’t comment on whether or not I think that’s likely to be the case, I will say this: Even three games in, it’s nice to see that the Pirates, and their manager, are standing up and doing everything they can to try and stop the losing, instead of sitting back and absorbing more abuse. Oh, and this attitude? It might just mean more than 17 wins away from PNC Park, as well.