The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 7, 2013

ERIC KNOPSNYDER | Resilience resonates with Bucs

Eric Knopsnyder
eknopsnyder@tribdem.com

PITTSBURGH — The key word in the Pirates’ locker room after their 5-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday was resiliency.

As in, the Pirates showed a lot of resiliency in getting the victory. They showed a lot of resiliency in coming back from a 9-1 drubbing in Game 1 of their National League division series to take the next two games over the National League Central Division champion Cardinals. And they showed a lot of resiliency during the regular season, when they won 94 games to snap the longest stretch of futility in North American professional sports history.

No wonder.

They did it with a starting pitcher who could soon be collecting his second Comeback Player of the Year award. They got a big two-run single from a veteran who had gone 1,250 regular-season games without a playoff appearance.

Another two runs came off the bat of a guy that the New York Yankees – yes those New York Yankees – weren’t willing to open their checkbook wide enough to sign in the offseason.

The game-winning RBI was delivered by a former first-round pick who some were ready to write off as another in a long line of Pittsburgh flops, and the save was earned by a 36-year-old closer who had more major league teams (six) than saves (five) coming into this season.

So, yeah, this group knows a little bit about resiliency.

“You kind of gain that throughout the year by coming through in situations,” said catcher Russell Martin, who spurned an offer from the Yankees in the offseason to sign with the Pirates and drove in two runs on Sunday. “We’ve been down a few times this year. We’ve been able to battle back and win some games. And when you do that, you start gaining confidence.”

The Pirates didn’t need to battle back from a deficit on Sunday, but it felt like it at times. Marlon Byrd, who is a 12-year major league veteran playing in his first postseason, put the Pirates ahead in the first inning with a two-run single that sent the black-clad Pittsburgh fans – who also know quite a bit about resiliency after two decades of losing – into a tizzy.

But Francisco Liriano, the pitcher who Pittsburgh gambled on in the offseason despite a miserable 2012 season split between the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, gave the Pirates a great chance to win, although he didn’t figure in the decision after giving up two runs in six innings against a dangerous St. Louis offense.

“One of those nights I had to go out there and battle,” is how Liriano described it.

His team did the same.

Martin gave the Pirates the lead in the sixth by getting a sacrifice fly off one of baseball’s most extreme ground-ball pitchers in Seth Maness, but St. Louis tied the game again in the eighth on Carlos Beltran’s home run off of Mark Melancon.

The Pirates – the resilient bunch that they are – rebounded to score twice in the bottom half of the inning.

It started when the Pirates lone superstar, MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, created a need for some more resiliency by uncharacteristically running into an out on the basepaths.

Pedro Alvarez, who was the second overall pick in the 2008 draft but barely hit his weight in the parts of his first three seasons in the majors, delivered an RBI single against St. Louis left-hander Kevin Siegrist.

Even though Alvarez tied for the National League lead in home runs, he’s struggled against left-handers while Siegrist has been nearly unhittable.

“I just knew it was going to be a tough matchup,” Alvarez said of the at-bat. “I seen him a couple of times before. I haven’t had much success. … It was going to be a grind.”

That’s the way the game was for the Pirates, and is the way most postseason games will be.

It seemed fitting that Jason Grilli, who went from midseason free-agent signing in 2011 to an All-Star closer in 2013, had to work through a bit of trouble in the ninth.

He gave up a leadoff single to former Slippery Rock star Matt Adams before recording the final three outs that put the Pirates just one victory from the National League championship series.

The teams will meet again at 4:07 this afternoon, with Charlie Morton, who is 2-9 with a 6.52 ERA in 14 career starts against the Cardinals, starting for Pittsburgh. Sounds like the Pirates might need some more resiliency to close out this series.

“Certainly, the resiliency is a very big part of this whole situation,” said second baseman Neil Walker, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area and knows all too well what the Pirates have faced over the years. “It’s a big part of this year. The ability to turn the page, regardless of how yesterday went, how today went – we’ve been very good at that. Regardless of who’s pitching, who’s playing, whatever the lineup looks like, guys have been ready to go. Today was just another example of that. And the last game was an example of that.”

If the Pirates can come up with a bit more resiliency today, there might be another R-word might be needed to describe them: Remarkable.

Eric Knopsnyder is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/eric_knopsnyder.