Rossi: Pirates plan to carry Hurdle deep into playoffs
Two months into the baseball season, Neil Walker had seen enough of his manager’s daily struggle. The Pirates might not get this call, he thought, but something had to be said. Walker approached the umpire to deliver a message, a message he would repeat often as spring turned to summer and then to autumn.
“You might want to meet him halfway.”
Clint Hurdle can barely walk, and that is tough for his players to watch. So, they’re planning to carry him to the World Series.
They’re planning to win this National League wild-card game against the Giants, take a five-game divisional series from the Nationals and snatch the pennant from either the Dodgers or Cardinals.
We might want to meet them halfway.
We might want to ponder not if the Pirates are the best team but whether they are the toughest — and whether might or mindset wins more games in October.
We might want to look at the symbolism on display with Hurdle during the ceremonial lineup introductions at PNC Park on Wednesday night. He’ll be the guy toughing it out by seemingly dragging both legs, a middle-aged manager betrayed by a right hip that started wearing down when he was a younger ballplayer.
Before the rest of us took notice, Walker knew something was wrong with Hurdle during spring training. He saw the signs: the stiff leg, those short steps, that grimace.
The son of a father who had two hip replacements, Walker figured early in spring training there was no way Hurdle would make it through the season. As the season approached, Walker wasn’t sure Hurdle could make it through the opening month. By then, Hurdle rarely would sit on team flights. And when he did, he needed two cushions just to take a load off.
A recovering alcoholic, Hurdle will not take pain medicine.
Heck, he wouldn’t even take a new hip.
He had a chance to get one during the All-Star break. However, Hurdle put off the procedure because he said he could still function and because he tells his players “go to the post.”
A good manager does as he says. Hurdle was more than a good manager last season. He’s a better one now, and the Pirates were fortunate to have him for each of their 162 games.
They might have still made the playoffs had he missed the first series after the All-Star break. It’s notable, though, that the Pirates swept that first series of the unofficial second half to start a 10-4 run.
Besides, the Pirates were 49-46 going into the All-Star break. They had regrouped after an 18-26 start. They were becoming something to see, and Hurdle had the best seat from where to watch — even if he would rather stand.
“He’s selfless,” Andrew McCutchen said. “We would understand if he wanted to get that hip taken care of, but it doesn’t surprise me at all that he didn’t.
“That’s the kind of person he is.”
Hurdle is the kind of person who goes to work because even hip-replacement surgery can wait until a few days after the last out is recorded.
Going to work is how he helped transform the Pirates from losers to winners to contenders in four seasons. Going to work is how he eventually will get them to a championship.
Going to work is how he leads.
It’s also how the Pirates have overcome their poor start, early bullpen shakiness, lengthy absences by key position players and starters, and a fall by Pedro Alvarez that was as stunning as his home runs were once majestic.
Going to work is how Josh Harrison went from a scrappy reserve to a starting third baseman chasing the batting title.
Going to work is how Walker went from an automatic out against left-handed pitchers to a cleanup batter who set a franchise record for home runs by a second baseman.
Going to work is how Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole went from forgettable beginnings to ace-like finishes.
Going to work is how Mark Melancon went from setup stud to closer. (Well, that and his wicked cutter.)
Going to work is how McCutchen went across-the-board better after his MVP last season.
Going to work is what these Pirates know, maybe all they know.
And they know from whom they learned it.
“We’re basically like his kids, and he’s the father just teaching us,” McCutchen said.
The Pirates are back in the postseason, and their manager can barely walk. His players should forget about meeting him halfway.
Go to the post.