PITTSBURGH — Where most saw misery and chaos, Clint Hurdle saw something else entirely.
The day Hurdle took over as the Pittsburgh Pirates manager in December, 2010, he spoke about electrifying the city. He preached optimism then went out and practiced it every day while talking about a vision that went far beyond returning a moribund franchise to respectability.
It’s why Hurdle isn’t satisfied after leading Pittsburgh to a 94-68 record and its first playoff berth in 21 years. It’s why he doesn’t view tonight’s wild-card game against Cincinnati as the culmination of three years of patience, progress and pragmatism.
Press Hurdle on how detailed he allowed his vision to get and he leans forward for emphasis.
“To win a sixth World Series,” he said.
First things first.
The team that spent all summer defying expectations now must find a way to do it again when it hosts the first playoff game in Pittsburgh in 7,660 days. Coming off a weekend sweep in Cincinnati that gave the Pirates home-field advantage for the one-and-done wild card, Pittsburgh has to press reset while trying not to get caught up in the kind of hype not seen in the city since Barry Bonds bolted for San Francisco 21 years ago.
“What happened over the weekend,” Hurdle said, “doesn’t matter.”
Neither does the six months that came before it, though Hurdle believes his team has all the hallmarks required to make sure this postseason appearance will extend beyond a cameo.
“I like the grit factor,” he said, “and the lessons we’ve learned.”
Lessons hard won on a roster that is baseball’s version of Ellis Island, a mixture of veterans looking to revive their careers and an exciting young core that includes MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and ace-in-training Gerrit Cole.
Despite looking lifeless at times down the stretch, the Reds received a jolt by the return of right-hander Johnny Cueto. The 27-year-old missed most of the season with back problems but has been solid since his return on Sept. 16. Cueto will start tonight against Francisco Liriano.
Wednesday’s American League wild-card game will feature Cleveland and Tampa Bay, which beat Texas 5-2 on Monday in a play-in tiebreaker contest — the Rays and Rangers finished Sunday’s play with identical 162-game records..
In the best-of-five division series, the NL wild-card winner is at St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers start at Atlanta.
In the AL, Detroit opens at Oakland and the wild card visits Boston.