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Bucs closing in on playoff spot after blanking Crew

Worley deals gem to help reduce club's magic number to three

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PITTSBURGH -- September is for heroes, tight collars and redemption -- the road taken Sunday by Vance Worley.

Six days after getting bumped from the Pirates' rotation, Worley returned to pitch eight magnificent innings to set up the Bucs' 1-0 victory over the Brewers in the final regular-season game at PNC Park.

The victory reduced Pittsburgh's magic number for clinching a playoff berth to three. The Brewers fell 4 1/2 games back in the race for the second National League Wild Card spot with their second loss in the three-game series.

"It sure doesn't look good," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said. "[The Pirates] are a good team. They're playing well, and you don't expect them to not play well here the last [seven] games. And we've got to basically win it out. That's not easy to do."

Conversely, the series win was the Pirates' 12th in the last 14 at home -- which is where they intend to play the NL Wild Card Game.

So they have some road work remaining, to make sure the last ones to run the PNC Park bases in 2014 won't be the kids who had the run of the place after Sunday's game.

The Bucs have those seven away games remaining on their claustrophobic schedule. Eighty-seven of the first 155 have been decided by one run or two -- including the pair of 1-0 thrillers these two teams split the last two days.

On Fan Appreciation Day, the Bucs got the biggest going-away gift of all: A franchise-record season attendance of 2,442,564, pushed there by Sunday's crowd of 38,650.

"They make a difference," manager Clint Hurdle said of his home crowd, in front of which the Pirates went 101-61 the last two seasons. "They give us energy. You feel it."

Sunday's curtain was dropped by the same guy who two days earlier had gotten a curtain call for his game-winning home run. This time, Russell Martin drove in the decisive run with a seventh-inning single that was the Pirates' first outfield hit off Milwaukee ace Wily Peralta.

The hit to center drove in Andrew McCutchen, who had reached base on the Bucs' third infield hit of the day, and advanced two bases on catcher Jonathan Lucroy's passed ball and a wild pitch, respectively.

Martin was quick to defer to his batterymate, though.

"Today, obviously, was about Vance Worley," the catcher said. "He was outstanding. He was throwing the first punch out there every time."

Worley started off 21 of the 27 batters he faced with strikes on the first pitch. Not that he had to throw that many more: He banked his eight innings on a total of 82 -- only 19 of them out of the strike zone -- and retired the final 13 batters he faced.

"That," Worley said, with a wide grin," was a lot of fun."

Worley was in position to possibly even better his 100-pitch complete game on July 28 in San Francisco, for the Pirates' only individual shutout of the season. However, he departed in favor of a leadoff pinch-hitter in the eighth, and Tony Watson got to post his first save since June 20, 2013.

Pushed aside earlier in the week in favor of a comeback start by Charlie Morton, now again sidelined by his sports hernia, Worley allowed just four hits while striking out five and walking none in his eight innings. He fanned five, and the 19 other outs included only three outfield flies; 14 came on the ground and three on infield popups.

"A little rest was good for me," conceded the Californian, who will turn 27 during the road trip. "This is the deepest I've gone into a season the last couple of years, so it gave me some time to get my feet back under me, to gather up some of the energy I used up early in the season."

"For me," he added, "it was all about strike one and keeping the ball down in the zone."

Following disappointments in past Septembers due either to injuries or the trust not shown in him by other teams, Worley owned this opportunity.

"He had everything working," Hurdle said. "Excellent. He pitched away, he changed speeds."

With Martin's guidance, he also was deceptive.

"He stayed away [early], mixed in the offspeed stuff," the catcher said. "In their second and third at-bats, he started to throw the ball in. [Until then], they hadn't really seen any fastballs in from him, and when he goes in, he's got some good movement. He saved a few pitches for that -- and it showed."

Peralta, however, crowded Worley in the spotlight beaming down on the mound. Through six innings, the Bucs' only two hits were infield jobs by Josh Harrison, including a bunt single in the sixth.

Worley outlasted Peralta. And all of his first punches led to Martin's knockout punch applying the other bookend to the home season.

The Bucs began it on March 31 with a 1-0 win over the Cubs and ended it with their only other 1-0 win of 2014.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Bucs hope to re-sign impending free agent Martin

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates are hoping to delay their offseason as long as possible, but once it arrives, there will be one decision looming larger than others for the front office: the possible re-signing of Russell Martin.

The 31-year-old catcher is having an outstanding season at the plate, as well as behind it. Martin boasted an on-base percentage of .409 entering Sunday and was called as valuable a member of the Pirates as Andrew McCutchen by manager Clint Hurdle earlier in the season. The Pirates signed Martin to a two-year contract for $17 million before last season.

The asking price is not going to be in that neighborhood this time around.

Martin will be receiving a longer and much pricier deal this offseason from somebody, and the Pirates are hoping it's within their budget. The desire from the fan base to re-sign Martin is strong, and only grew with his go-ahead, eighth-inning homer against the Brewers on Friday.

While fans cross their fingers this winter, the Pirates will try to get Martin to ink a new contract. But it's far from a certainty.

"We're going to do everything we can to try to keep Russ here. If we don't have enough, we'll do our very best to find the next Russ Martin," general manager Neal Huntington said on Sunday.

"I've said it before, I'll say it again, Russ is one of those unique circumstances where we got beat up and highly criticized for signing him when we did. And if he does walk out the door, we're going to get beat up and highly criticized when he walks out the door. And a lot of that credit goes to Russ Martin."

Long-term deals for a lot of money are not the Pirates' MO, however, and Huntington noted that is not going to change.

"We're going to continue to have to pay guys for what we believe they're going to do, and not what they've done," he said. "The bigger markets certainly have luxury to be able to extend much beyond comfort levels to pay an extra year or two, to pave over prior mistakes with more money. Smaller markets pay players based on what they think they're going to be; they pay players what they feel comfortable paying them, they retain players they feel comfortable retaining."

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Pirates break PNC Park attendance record

Pirates break PNC Park attendance record

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates hit a milestone on Sunday, as they set a PNC Park season attendance record on their final home game of the regular season.

A crowd of 38,650 filled the stadium, pushing the season total to 2,442,564, the most the team has ever had in one year. It surpassed the 2,436,139 fans that came to games in 2001 -- PNC Park's initial season. Sunday was the 23rd sellout of the season, which tied a record set in 2013.

"When we came in, we believed we had a very passionate fan base that would re-engage when we put a good team on the field," said general manager Neal Huntington, who took his post prior to the 2008 season. "And to break the all-time attendance record, it shows that this city is still engaged, it still loves the Bucs and has room in its heart for the Bucs, the Steelers, the Penguins and all the local college teams. Now our challenge is to do it the next year and the years beyond."

The Pirates, who are on the verge of reaching the playoffs for the second season in a row, have performed for the fans they have drawn. The Bucs have posted back-to-back 50-win seasons at PNC Park, going 101-61 at home in the last two campaigns.

Clint Hurdle, who has managed the Pirates since the 2011 season, called the feat "truly an organizational accomplishment."

"It's an 'Atta boy, atta girl, atta everybody,'" Hurdle said Sunday. "So many people involved in this process, the fans most of all. But the rekindling, the reigniting, the re-bonding we talked about coming in the door back in '11. It was sparse -- April, May, June. We started playing some better baseball, people started coming out. But to break the all-timer, that's something we all need to feel a sense of accomplishment and be thankful for the fans."

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Bucs could shuffle rotation with eye toward playoffs

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates could be heading for their second consecutive National League Wild Card Game this season.

It's familiar territory for the Bucs, who won the do-or-die game against Cincinnati last season, and did so by lining up Francisco Liriano to make the start. The Pirates have a good opportunity to lock in a playoff spot in the next few days, and general manager Neal Huntington said there have been some discussions about which starting pitcher the team would like to use in a plethora of different scenarios.

Pittsburgh still has an outside chance at winning the NL Central, as they came into Sunday 3 1/2 games back of the Cardinals. They also trailed the Giants by one game for the top Wild Card spot, which would allow them to host the one-game playoff. The Pirates just need to catch San Francisco in the standings, as they hold the tiebreaker after winning the season series.

With all that in mind, Huntington said the team will think about saving a given starter based on how many regular-season games left on the schedule can have an impact on the Pirates' postseason fate.

"We worked through a number of different options and we're fortunate that we have a handful of guys that we feel very comfortable with the ball in their hand in what arguably will be the most important game of the year," Huntington said. "We've got any number of scenarios ready to go, depending on how the rest of the season plays out."

The NL Wild Card Game is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 1, meaning a pitcher would have to last throw on Friday to enter on regular rest.

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Cole clears up comments on Garza

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PITTSBURGH -- Gerrit Cole on Sunday morning wanted to clarify a misconception arising from the aftermath of Brewers pitcher Matt Garza twice hitting Andrew McCutchen with pitches in Saturday night's game against the Pirates.

Garza had said he was "just trying to pitch inside" to the dangerous McCutchen.

Cole, visibly upset during the game when McCutchen got plunked for a second time, conceded to afterward the need to work McCutchen inside and added, "Going up and in, you've got to know how to do it, be comfortable doing it. I don't know what the intent was on either of them. It could've been as simple as that the only two misfires he had all night were to him."

Due to the way the two quotes were linked in's story on the incident, the young Pittsburgh pitcher was disturbed by the conclusion drawn that he was directly faulting Garza, a nine-year veteran, for being unable to pitch inside.

"I was trying to speak generally about the circumstances, and that the second pitch led to an ejection because warnings had been issued," Cole said.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Bucs look to close in on postseason berth in Atlanta

Liriano hopes to move Pirates step closer to October baseball

Bucs look to close in on postseason berth in Atlanta play video for Bucs look to close in on postseason berth in Atlanta

Two weeks ago, a glance at the schedule showed a four-game series in Atlanta during the regular season's final week that was likely to have major playoff implications for both teams.

But the Braves have been eliminated from postseason contention, and the only sign of the playoffs they could see this week is the Pirates potentially celebrating locking in a postseason spot at Turner Field. Atlanta has lost 14 of 18 games in September, and the team's loss to the Mets on Sunday was its eighth in nine contests. That, coupled with Pittsburgh's win against the Brewers, officially took the Braves out of postseason contention.

"I think we need to go out and show Major League Baseball that we're going to give it everything we've got against the Pittsburgh Pirates and battle," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said following Sunday's loss. "Hopefully, we'll win a series and make it more interesting for baseball and our fans."

The Pirates, meanwhile, are surging at the right time. The Bucs have won 13 of 16, including the two they took from the Brewers over the weekend, increasing the lead for the National League Wild Card's second spot to 4 ½ games and slimmed their magic number for a playoff spot to three.

Pittsburgh could join Washington as the second team in as many weeks to celebrate a playoff berth at Turner Field, but manager Clint Hurdle is maintaining his "one day at a time" mantra.

"We'll continue to play it out," Hurdle said after his team shut out the Brewers on Sunday. "We have to get in, that's where our focus is, is getting in."

The Pirates' win on Sunday tied the club with the Giants for the top Wild Card spot.

In the series opener, Francisco Liriano will be on the mound for the Pirates. He's been dominant since the last time he faced Atlanta. The left-hander gave up nine runs on 10 hits in four innings against the Braves on Aug. 19.

In five starts since then, however, Liriano has allowed runs in just two outings, posting an 0.82 ERA in his last five starts.

Aaron Harang, who opposed Liriano and threw 8 1/3 innings against the Pirates last month, will get the nod for the Braves. The 6-foot-7 righty went seven innings in each of his last two outings, combining to allow just two earned runs.

Braves: Heyward dealing with bruised thumb
Braves right fielder Jason Heyward's bruised right thumb will likely keep him out of Atlanta's starting lineup Monday in the series opener against Pittsburgh.

Heyward injured his thumb Wednesday in a win against the Nationals and has not returned. He had his hand wrapped Sunday, and he said he was still unable to grip a bat.

The 25-year-old is hitting .272/.351/.386 in 144 games this season with 11 homers and 58 RBIs.

Evan Gattis is also questionable for Monday's game. The catcher took batting practice this weekend, but has not played since Sept. 7 due to a kidney stone.

Pirates: Team sets home attendance record
The Pirates had their 23rd sellout of the season at PNC Park on Sunday in their regular-season home finale. With the 38,650 on hand to watch a 1-0 victory against the Brewers, the team broke a single-season attendance record at the park, pushing the 2014 attendance to 2,442,564.

It broke the previous high of 2,436,139 that was set in PNC Park's first season, 13 years ago.

"It's an 'atta boy, atta girl, atta everybody,'" Hurdle said Sunday. "So many people involved in this process, the fans most of all. But the rekindling, the reigniting, the re-bonding we talked about coming in the door back in '11. It was sparse -- April, May, June. We started playing some better baseball, people started coming out. But to break the all-timer, that's something we all need to feel a sense of accomplishment and be thankful for the fans."

With the bigger crowds, the Pirates also delivered the most wins they've ever had in PNC Park's history, notching a 51-30 home mark. Sunday's victory broke a tie with last season's 50-win mark, as the Bucs have gone 101-61 in the past two seasons on the North Shore.

Worth noting
• Monday will be Liriano's first career start at Turner Field. Once the 10-year veteran pitches there, he will have appeared in every current Major League stadium except Marlins Stadium.

• Since Liriano and Harang last faced each other on Aug. 19, the Braves are 10-19, while the Pirates are 20-9.

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Garza ejected after hitting McCutchen twice

Brewers manager Roenicke also tossed as warnings had been issued

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PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen's teammates were livid in the fifth inning Saturday night when Milwaukee pitcher Matt Garza was ejected after hitting the Pirates star with a pitch for the second time in the game.

Garza saved his own fire for after the game, perhaps fanned by the Brewers' emotional 1-0 victory.

"If people think I hit McCutchen on purpose, with a 1-2 count in a game like this, then you're just an idiot, OK?" Garza said, referring to the tenuous situation in a scoreless game. "Because a game like this, a starter doesn't go after a guy like that. It's a [1-2] count and I'm trying to pitch inside. Guy leans in, it hits him on the elbow, that's my day. So it is what it is, and I'm happy we pulled it out."

Garza directed his ire at the 39,027 fans who booed him off the field and, in a sense, even at the umpire who ejected him.

Even though home-plate umpire Marty Foster had no other recourse, having warned both benches the inning prior after Pittsburgh starter Edinson Volquez had brushed back Ryan Braun. Garza hit McCutchen for the first time in the third inning.

"I just wanted to pitch inside, that's the way I have been pitching against him," Volquez said. "I don't think [Garza]'s was on purpose, too, there were two outs. I know [McCutchen] is one of the best hitters on the team, but I don't think it was on purpose."

"It was the right call, no doubt," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Garza's ejection. "If he doesn't get tossed, then I do. Somebody is going to leave."

McCutchen discussed his latest run-ins with pitched baseballs in even tones.

"The intent was to get the fastball off the plate in, that was the intent," McCutchen said. "As far as hitting me, I'm not too sure. They know better than to throw me a fastball on the plate in, so if they're going to throw it in there, they're going to throw it in off the plate. My assumption is that's what he was trying to do both times."

Gerrit Cole, the most visibly livid player in the home dugout, faulted Garza for not knowing how to properly pitch inside.

"I know when you're pitching to a guy like that, you have to get it inside, you can't leave it out over the plate," Cole conceded. "Going up and in, you've got to know how to do it, be comfortable doing it. I don't know what the intent was on either of them. It could've been as simple as that -- the only two misfires he had all night were to him."

When hit on the upper left arm, McCutchen angrily slammed his bat on the ground.

Garza and his manager, Ron Roenicke -- who was also ejected -- pleaded their case of an incidental pitch with Foster.

"I tried to plead my case to the umpire," Garza said, "and he just told me, 'In this type of situation, my hands are tied.' I said, 'Come on, you know it.' He said, 'Yeah, I know it,' and all three umpires there were like, 'You've got to understand the situation.' I was like, 'What? It's a playoff atmosphere situation. Of course, everybody's on the edge of their seats right now.' It is what it is."

The Pirates' dugout was up in arms while trainer Todd Tomczyk treated McCutchen, who remained in the game -- and in fact ended that inning by getting thrown out on a steal attempt.

"You see your best guy get hit like that, and everybody is pumped up, everybody starts screaming," Volquez said.

In April, Cole was at the center of a benches-clearing shouting and shoving incident with the Brewers after he called out Carlos Gomez for admiring a drive that turned out to stay in the ballpark.

The Pirates' displeasure at seeing McCutchen plunked twice was understandable. Their center fielder and reigning National League Most Valuable Player has been hit by pitches nine times.

"You might as well just put up four fingers if you're going to do that," McCutchen said.

Most notably, McCutchen was drilled in the spine by Arizona reliever Randall Delgado on Aug. 2, the day before sustaining an avulsion rib fracture believed to be related to the hit-by-pitch. McCutchen had to go on the disabled list for the first time in his career as a result.

Garza had hit a total of two batters in 160 innings this season before drilling McCutchen twice in three innings.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Pirates edged by Brewers, fall back in Central

Club's lead over Crew for WC 3 1/2 games, but now 3 1/2 behind Cards

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PITTSBURGH -- Again on Saturday night, a loud hit galvanized the Pirates' dugout. Unlike the others in the past two weeks, though, this one didn't win them a game.

Through two plunkings of Andrew McCutchen, dozens of heated shouts, one ejected Milwaukee starter and a pair of late-inning scoring chances, the Pirates were shut out by the Brewers, 1-0, in front of 39,027 in the penultimate regular-season game at PNC Park this season. The Bucs' lead over the Brewers for the second National League Wild Card spot shrunk to 3 1/2 games, and their magic number for clinching a playoff berth remained at five. Pittsburgh fell 3 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central's top spot.

The timely offense that has been seemingly automatic for the Pirates of late -- the team is still 12-3 in its last 15 games -- never appeared, and they were unable to break through against Matt Garza or any of the Brewers' six relievers.

Some tension that has been building all season boiled over in the fifth inning when McCutchen was hit with a pitch for the second time by Garza, who was ejected along with Brewers manager Ron Roenicke.

The Pirates stranded 10 runners, leaving a man 90 feet away in both the seventh and eighth innings of a scoreless game. The Brewers broke the tie in the ninth against closer Mark Melancon. The key hit was a Lyle Overbay chopping grounder which was just out of the reach of first baseman Gaby Sanchez and rolled to the wall for a double. Logan Schafer lifted a sacrifice fly two batters later.

"It's an exciting time of the year to play. Little things show up," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You'd like to execute every little opportunity you can when you got guys in scoring position, but it doesn't always work that way. We kept putting them out there, we didn't get it done tonight."

The Bucs put runners on the corners in the seventh, only to have it fall apart when pinch-runner Gregory Polanco was thrown out at the plate after Josh Harrison was picked off first and caught in a rundown.

With Jose Tabata at the plate with a 1-2 count, the Pirates put on the designed play, which was meant to have Polanco take off for home whenever the first baseman got rid of the ball in the rundown. That never happened as Overbay pump faked, Polanco broke, and he was out by a good margin at the plate.

"If we get that throw off, I believe Polanco scores easily," Hurdle said. "Just a little bit too antsy, left a bit too early. We took some chances at swinging the bat, didn't score a run, thought we'd give that a shot."

The Pirates had an even better opportunity the following inning when an intentional walk to Russell Martin -- the hero of Friday's win -- loaded the bases. However, Starling Marte lined out sharply to third and Sanchez's hard-hit grounder was directly at shortstop Hector Gomez, who ended the threat with a forceout at second.

The Brewers were kept quiet for the first seven innings of the game by right-hander Edinson Volquez, who worked around three hits and three walks to post seven zeros. Volquez's ERA now sits at 3.15 for the season, and Volquez has allowed just 10 earned runs in his last 59 innings.

Like Pittsburgh, Milwaukee whiffed on some chances. The Brewers had a runner reach second base in each of the first four innings against the 31-year-old Volquez, but none of them scored.

"That's me," Volquez said about his ability to work around multiple baserunners. "I think I settled myself down. I'm pitching better from the stretch and with runners in scoring position. I'm an old guy now, I know how to control the situation and make good pitches."

Volquez also had a small part in the McCutchen-Garza saga, as his inside pitch to Ryan Braun the inning after McCutchen was hit for the first time drew warnings to both benches from home-plate umpire Marty Foster. Volquez said there was no intent to hit Braun with the pitch, and he also said he didn't think Garza was intentionally throwing at McCutchen.

"I just wanted to pitch inside, that's the way I have been pitching against [Braun]," Volquez said. "I don't think [Garza]'s was on purpose, too, there were two outs. I know [McCutchen] is one of the best hitters on the team, but I don't think it was on purpose."

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Martin's improvement with RISP key for Pirates

Martin's improvement with RISP key for Pirates play video for Martin's improvement with RISP key for Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- At some point between seasons, Jeff Branson, taking over as the Pirates' primary hitting coach, distributed questionnaires to his players. They were asked to list three personal things on which they wanted to improve from 2013 to 2014.

Russell Martin put down, "Hitting better with men in scoring position."

"Just the thought of wanting to be better at that was the first step," Martin said Saturday, the day after his latest heroics.

As manager Clint Hurdle often says, "It all starts with a thought."

Martin's go-ahead three-run homer in the eighth inning Friday night put his average with runners in scoring position at a Majors-leading .380. He has converted 92 at-bats with RISP into 56 RBIs.

"I know it wasn't nearly as good last year," Martin said, quickly adding, "but I have no idea [what it was]. I don't want to know."

So this is just between us: In 2013, Martin batted .192 in 120 at-bats with RISP, driving in 30 runs.

"It became a matter of trusting the approach. It really comes down to not trying to do too much," Martin said. "Taking the base hit, not trying to hit a homer or a double. In that situation, pitchers get picky -- they don't give you as many pitches to hit. So it all boils down to plate discipline. Not giving them strikes, making them throw the ball over the plate."

Martin's Friday night home run not only beat the Brewers, it helped clinch a postseason berth for the Dodgers, his club for the first five years of his career.

"Yeah. Crazy. I saw that mentioned on Twitter," Martin said with a broad smile.

Worth noting

• In the Pirates' 10-2 run since Sept. 6, entering Saturday's game, their starting pitchers were 9-1. The nine wins match the rotation's total through the season's first 54 games, during which relievers earned the 16 other wins.

"The starters have challenged themselves to keep the bar set," Hurdle said. "Everyone is saying, 'I don't want to be the guy to break the chain.'"

• Hurdle attributed the closing success of Mark Melancon (31 saves) to the fact "he throws strikes. He's always working from ahead in the count."

Walking the first batter he faces is the absolute bane of a closer's existence. How many times has that happened to Melancon in his 69 appearances this season? Twice.

• On Friday night, the Bucs won for the 14th time when scoring exactly four runs. The flip side: The Colorado Rockies are 0-12 when they score four.

• As Travis Snider informed Jeff Locke, the Pirates "own the eighth inning." The Bucs' run differential that frame of plus-24 (83-59) is their greatest of any inning.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Pirates win challenge, get out call overturned

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates successfully challenged an out call at first base in the second inning of Saturday night's game after the Brewers were originally credited with a double play.

With Starling Marte on first with a leadoff infield single, Ike Davis lined out to second baseman Scooter Gennett, who threw to first baseman Lyle Overbay to get the out call on Marte from first-base umpire Rob Drake.

On Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle's challenge, the play was reviewed and the call overturned as replays indicated Overbay's left foot was not on the bag when he gloved Gennett's toss as Marte slid back in.

The Pirates thus retained their challenge. The game moved into the third inning in a scoreless tie.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Worley to fill in for ailing Morton, start Sunday's finale

Righty tossed five scoreless Tuesday after missing month with sports hernia

Worley to fill in for ailing Morton, start Sunday's finale play video for Worley to fill in for ailing Morton, start Sunday's finale

PITTSBURGH -- Charlie Morton had what he called a "discouraging" bullpen session Thursday, and a sports hernia in his right side will prevent him from starting Sunday. The team announced Friday afternoon that Vance Worley will take the mound in the series finale against the Brewers this weekend.

Morton made his first start for the Pirates in more than a month Tuesday, throwing five scoreless innings against the Red Sox. While his numbers looked promising, the sinkerballer revealed Friday that he tweaked something on one of the last pitches of the outing. The showing will likely be Morton's last of 2014.

"It was one of the faster pitches I threw, something changed a little bit more," Morton said. "I don't know how to describe it. The sensation is somewhat different, the location is the same."

Morton has been dealing with the injury in his right hip/groin area since a June 2 start in San Diego, and he spent four weeks on the disabled list because of it. He said during the bullpen session was the worst he's felt with the ailment since it began bothering him.

"This whole time [with the injury], I've been able to at least go out, throw a bullpen, play catch effectively," Morton said. "And the ball was not coming out very well at all [Thursday], I was pretty discouraged about the bullpen [Thursday]. I keep hoping that the next time I play catch, I'll feel better."

Morton said the next step will be meeting with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas Bryd in Nashville -- the same doctor he met with earlier this season and who performed surgery on Morton's left hip in the 2012 offseason. While meeting with Byrd, Morton noted he will get an idea if he'll need more surgery to resolve this issue.

Meanwhile, Worley will be reinserted into the rotation and make his first start since Sept. 10. The right-hander stuck in the rotation after being promoted from Triple-A in mid-June, but has had a shaky patch of late. Worley has a 4.81 ERA in his last six starts, one of them an Aug. 24 appearance against the Brewers in which he gave up a season-high12 hits.

Coming back after skipping a start should not be a problem for Worley, who referenced a stretch in July when he did not start in two weeks because of the All-Star break and a shuffling of the rotation. Knowing there was a chance Morton would not pitch Sunday, Worley threw 16 pitches in the bullpen Wednesday and threw another light bullpen session Friday.

Worth noting

• Before the Josh Harrison-triggered gem Sunday, PNC Park, opened in 2001, was the oldest MLB park yet to host a triple play. The four remaining holdout yards are Minute Maid Park (opened 2002), Petco Park (2004), Busch Stadium III (2006) and Marlins Park (2012).

• If you watched Andrew McCutchen back into the wall after leaping to rob Boston's Daniel Nava of extra bases Thursday night, it might have reminded you of an identical catch he'd made on St. Louis' Matt Carpenter on Aug. 26 -- only a week after returning from an avulsion rib fracture.

The difference? McCutchen was visibly in pain after the earlier catch, and had to leave that game two innings later. Thursday night, he came off the wall spryly.

"I'm good now. But I've been good for a long while," McCutchen said with a grin.

Russell Martin's average with runners in scoring position -- .367 entering Friday night's game -- is the best by a regular Pirates catcher in 39 years. Manny Sanguillen hit .381 with RISP in 1975.

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Martin's late blast moves Bucs even closer to playoffs

Go-ahead three-run homer in eighth pads lead for No. 2 NL Wild Card

Martin's late blast moves Bucs even closer to playoffs play video for Martin's late blast moves Bucs even closer to playoffs

PITTSBURGH -- The North Side was pumped for the party of the year. Throngs rocked the streets around PNC Park early Friday evening, before going through the gates to cheer the Pirates closer to October nirvana.

Yovani Gallardo would not let them, but he could only delay the shindig, until Russell Martin could knock a three-run homer in the eighth inning off Jonathan Broxton to stun the Brewers, 4-2, in front of 37,974 revelers.

As the ecstatic crowd's roars drew Martin out of the dugout for a fist-pumping curtain call, October's siren song wafted over the ballpark.

"That was the sweetest right there. It doesn't get sweeter than that," Martin said after having washed the obligatory victory pie out of his substantial beard. "It's just ... hard to be happier than that."

"It's just Russ being Russ," shrugged Jeff Locke, the left-hander who had given the Bucs seven solid innings to set up a defining win.

With their fifth straight win, the Pirates reduced their magic number for clinching a postseason berth as at least the National League's No. 2 Wild Card to five. Their lead over Milwaukee grew to 4 1/2 games, and they also moved within one game of the Giants for the No. 1 Wild Card after San Francisco lost to San Diego. St. Louis beat Cincinnati, keeping Pittsburgh 2 1/2 back in the NL Central.

The Bucs' rally kept Francisco Rodriguez locked up in the Brewers' bullpen, while John Holdzkom, the Pirates reliever trying to follow in the 2002 late-season footsteps of K-Rod, earned his first Major League win after picking up for Locke with a scoreless eighth. Mark Melancon worked a 1-2-3 ninth for save No. 31.

The five-game winning streak is new ground for the Bucs, who had previously been 0-6 in opportunities to go beyond four, but the comeback was familiar. It was their 40th.

"Gallardo had his good stuff today, and it can be frustrating at times -- we're a team that has a pretty good offense, so when someone neutralizes you, it's frustrating," Martin said. "But we believe that once we get into that bullpen, we can make things happen."

Even while they could not do anything with Gallardo, who blanked them on five hits through seven, the Pirates were doing plenty. They spoiled enough pitches -- fouling off 24 in his seven innings -- to ensure he would not see the eighth.

That was doubly good for the Bucs, because it meant they would see Broxton, the Brewers' setup reliever against whom they have had great success.

It did not change. Starling Marte hit a leadoff grounder wide of first and beat Broxton to the bag for an infield single. With one away, Neil Walker singled. Martin then launched his 11th homer, and the party machine was plugged in.

"We strung some hits together," Martin said, "and Broxton made a mistake -- he left one out over the plate -- and I put a good swing on the ball."

"I was trying to go down and away," Broxton said of the pitch. "I don't know where it [wound up]. I just know it didn't stay in the ballpark."

Since the start of the 2013 season, Broxton has worked 9 2/3 innings against the Pirates and given up 15 runs and 18 hits, including five home runs.

Everyone anticipated a postseason-like atmosphere, with a blend of cooling weather, the fans' fervor, the stakes. And the game itself filled the bill; taut, every pitch meaningful.

"It was huge ... games now get looked at more importantly because of the time of the season," Locke said, "but, really, it's no more important than June or July."

The Brewers came to town in a helpless situation. Trailing by 3 1/2 games, they have to accept still being behind when they leave. But Ron Roenicke's men came to play.

None were more intent than Gallardo, who recovered from an exhausting beginning -- 74 pitches through four innings -- to work deep into the game. On his penultimate 111th pitch, he notched his 11th strikeout, then needed only one more to end the seventh.

Gallardo's only two higher pitch counts of the season, clearly not coincidentally, had also come in PNC Park. He made 121 in seven innings of a 1-0 triumph -- over Locke -- on June 8, and 114 on April 17.

"It was big to get him up where he was where he'd had enough," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "There are some nights where anybody is better than the guy who is out there. If we don't get that pitch count up, there's no telling how many innings [Gallardo] could've thrown tonight."

Locke wouldn't let Gallardo relax. Both went seven innings, and allowed five hits. However, Locke's yield included Jonathan Lucroy's RBI single in the first and Rickie Weeks' long solo homer in the fifth.

This was the second time this season Locke faced the Brewers here. He still doesn't have any runs. Of course, he drew Gallardo as his mound opponent both times.

"We couldn't do a whole lot on Gallardo, and as soon as he came out of the game," Locke said, "we just jumped on it."

When his night was done and as he was walking down the dugout toward the stairs to the clubhouse, Locke was intercepted by Travis Snider.

"Nice job," Snider said, adding, "Don't worry. We're an eighth-inning team."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Pirates to set club season attendance record Sunday

Pirates to set club season attendance record Sunday

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates will set a club record for season attendance Sunday, the last home game of the regular season at PNC Park.

Crowds between 37,500-38,000 are projected for each of the three games against the Brewers, the Bucs' closest pursuers for a National League Wild Card spot.

Entering Friday night's series opener, the Pirates had drawn 2,326,913 -- 109,226 shy of the 127-year-old franchise's record of 2,436,139, in PNC Park's maiden 2001 season.

The approach of the gate record is surprising in one sense, with numerous other sources listing the record as 2,464,870, which would have been out of range. The team's own media guide, however, lists the correct figure.

In another sense, the record merely fulfills club president Frank Coonelly's vow to in February.

"I have publicly said that we need to break the franchise's all-time attendance record, and we're well on our way to doing that," Coonelly had said in the dawn of Spring Training.

The Bucs also began the weekend with a home record of 49-29, tied with St. Louis for the NL's best.

Another record within reach: 50 home wins, set by last year's team.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"event":["prospect" ] } Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Bryant, Glasnow are Pipeline Prospects of the Year

Cubs phenom led Minors in HR, SLG, OPS; Pirates hurler led in opponents' average, was third in ERA

Bryant, Glasnow are Pipeline Prospects of the Year play video for Bryant, Glasnow are Pipeline Prospects of the Year

One led all of the Minor Leagues in home runs and slugging percentage. The other topped all pitching prospects in batting average against while finishing third in ERA. It's for those reasons that Kris Bryant of the Cubs and Tyler Glasnow of the Pirates have been chosen as's 2014 Hitting Prospect and Pitching Prospect of the Year.

Bryant, the top prospect in the Cubs' system and No. 3 on the Top 100 list, was the unanimous choice for the top hitting prospect. The No. 2 pick in the 2013 Draft had about as good a first season of pro ball as anyone could imagine. The third baseman split the year between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting a combined .325/.438/.661. Bryant's 43 home runs were tops in the Minors, one more than the Rangers' Joey Gallo, as was his .661 slugging percentage and 1.098 OPS.

Bryant also finished second with a .438 on-base percentage and third with 110 RBIs. Just to show he wasn't a one-dimensional player, Bryant's batting average put him in the top 20 of all Minor Leaguers and he even stole 15 bases to boot.

"When I was going good, I just went with it, didn't change anything," Bryant said. "When I hit a little low point, it didn't seem to last more than two games. Having success is when you hit those low points, you minimize it. That's kind of how I went about it."

Bryant didn't even really miss a beat when he got promoted, though his numbers did dip a bit. Still, hitting .295/.418/.619 in Triple-A isn't too shabby. And the third baseman, who also received Minor League Player of the Year honors from USA Today and Baseball America, wasn't exaggerating. He never went more than two full games without a hit.

Dodgers outfield prospect Joc Pederson, who turned in a 30-30 season with Triple-A Albuquerque, was the unanimous second-place choice. Gallo, the Dodgers' Corey Seager and Red Sox prospect Mookie Betts all received votes.

Glasnow's march to Pitcher of the Year honors got started a bit late, his first start not coming until April 25 as he recovered from a back injury. But once he got rolling, he was pretty much unhittable for the rest of the Florida State League season.

Glasnow gave up more than two earned runs just three times in his 23 starts. He notched five double-digit strikeout totals, and while he was 21st in innings pitched in the FSL, he was second in K's, thanks to his 11.4 strikeout-per-nine rate. Even when Glasnow wasn't missing bats, there wasn't a ton of hard contact, as evidenced by his Minors-leading .174 batting average against and 5.4 hits per nine rate. He gave up three home runs all year.

"I'm definitely proud of what happened," said Glasnow, who'll head to the Arizona Fall League to make up for some of those lost innings. "I think I got a lot better, especially from the beginning of the year to the end. The injury was a good lesson. I was just rehabbing. That was frustrating. I'm glad I went through that at the beginning of the year. I learned a ton and I'm definitely a better pitcher now."

Glasnow had a breakout season in 2013, and some wanted to see him do it again to make sure it wasn't a one-time fluke. Glasnow's numbers improved in a few areas, including a lower walk rate, making it clear he's as legit as they come. He began the 2013 season not on the Top 100 at all, but finished it at No. 97. He shot up to 27 to start the 2014 season and is now all the way up to No. 17.

"It used to be my whole focus, to prove to people that I was better than people thought I was," said Glasnow, who pointed to improving his secondary stuff as well as his mental approach as the things he's most proud of. "Coming into this year, I wanted to do well again, and it was a bit of a thought. I wanted to show people I could do it again.

"I stopped putting so much emphasis on what people were saying. I wanted to live more in the now, not get too caught up in all that stuff. That helped."

The vote for top pitcher was a little more spread out. Blue Jays lefty Daniel Norris, Brewers right-hander Jimmy Nelson and Red Sox southpaw Henry Owens all received a good deal of support. Brian Johnson, also in the Boston organization, Nationals right-hander Lucas Giolito and young Dodgers lefty Julio Urias all received votes as well.

Bryant and Glasnow share something in common, beyond both being Pipeline honorees. In addition to having to deal with opposing players, they also had to hear a fairly constant barrage of questions about being promoted. The call for Bryant to come to Chicago, especially after fellow prospects Javier Baez and Jorge Soler were called up, was deafening. Glasnow also knew there was talk about whether he'd get bumped up to Double-A to finish the season.

"I thought about it a little bit," Glasnow said. "I wasn't too worried about it. A lot of people asked me about it and I said, 'I have no idea. I'm just going to keep pitching well.' I literally had no control over it."

"I didn't think about it at all, actually," Bryant said. "I kind of got annoyed hearing about it all the time. I tried not to read anything or hear anything. It's a big distraction and takes away from what you're doing on the field. I was just trying to focus on getting better every day. If you're not doing that, you're not going to get to the big leagues. If I'm doing that, then that day will come."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Fortuitous play helps widen Bucs' WC lead

Batted ball hits runner on third to thwart Boston's rally in ninth inning

Fortuitous play helps widen Bucs' WC lead play video for Fortuitous play helps widen Bucs' WC lead

PITTSBURGH -- After yet another play to make you rub your eyes, after his Pirates' 11th win in 13 games -- and before the fill-and-bring-down-the-house home season finale -- Clint Hurdle on Thursday finally let down his guard.

No, the Pittsburgh manager did not drop words like "destiny" or "fate." Crusty baseball people don't subscribe to such things. They just have their own way of describing plays such as the one that helped the Bucs edge Boston, 3-2, to complete the Interleague sweep of the Red Sox at PNC Park.

With their win and Milwaukee's extra-inning loss in St. Louis, the Bucs lowered their magic number for clinching the National League's No. 2 Wild Card spot to 7 on the eve of a three-game set with the Brewers, now 3 1/2 games behind them. Pittsburgh also moved within two games of the Giants, who hold the No. 1 Wild Card spot, and stayed within 2 1/2 games of the Cards' NL Central lead.

"Sometimes you're just meant to win the game," Hurdle said soon after having watched the runner representing Boston's tying run -- on third base with none out in the ninth -- get himself out by diving under a batted, fair ball.

Hurdle has been there before. In 2007, his Colorado Rockies streaked into a 163rd postseason tiebreaker game against San Diego -- and won when Matt Holliday slid past catcher Michael Barrett with the winning run in the bottom of the 13th inning.

"There are people who still don't know if he was safe, don't know if he was out, seven years later," Hurdle said.

"I saw something tonight I'd never seen before," he added.

Mark Melancon had entered in the ninth, which got off to an annoying start as his 0-1 pitch barely grazed the loose jersey of Allen Craig. Still, a hit batter it was, and Jemile Weeks pinch-ran, and he was soon running to third on Daniel Nava's single.

Will Middlebrooks rolled an 0-1 pitch toward third base, as Weeks started home and Josh Harrison started charging the ball. Weeks had a change of heart.

"His first reaction was to score, and he realized, 'You know what? He's going to throw home.' And that little step he took towards home," Harrison said, "got him caught up."

As Weeks tried to get back to the bag, the ball caught up to him -- and caught him on the right leg, one bounce before it would have veered foul.

"That extra step just allowed it to hit him," Harrison said. "The next hop probably would've made it bounce foul."

"I didn't anticipate it going foul," Weeks said. "It was coming pretty much right in front of me at first, so I'm guessing the way he hit it, it kind of spun and came at me a little bit. I tried to get back as fast as I could and I didn't think it was going to come right on top of me like that."

"[Weeks] played it the right way. But that was the first time in my life I've ever seen that happen," said Boston's John Farrell, making it unanimous between the managers. "Sometimes when it rains it pours."

This cloudburst ended with Jackie Bradley Jr. striking out and Christian Vazquez rolling the 27th out to second. Melancon had his 30th save, for Gerrit Cole's 10th win.

And the Pirates remained faithful to Hurdle's "just keep playing" mandate through the first week of this final homestand. They pulled rank on some of the lesser teams in both Major Leagues. And it has gotten them here: A head-to-head with their chief postseason rivals, and a chance to kick sand in the bully Brewers' faces.

The Cole Train kept the Bucs on track for October, pitching into the eighth inning for their fourth straight victory, the seventh time they have reached that point. The Pirates now again get to try to take five.

Cole had to depart after surrendering consecutive singles to Vazquez and pinch-hitter Garin Cecchini to open the eighth. The appreciative roars of 36,862 escorting him to the dugout had to be thrilling to the ears of his grandfather, Adrian, who had come from his Detroit home to watch him pitch in the Majors for the first time.

Tony Watson entered to give up a one-out sacrifice fly to Xander Bogaerts, but ended the inning by striking out David Ortiz.

The Pirates are in their hottest stretch since a similar 11-2 run last year from June 20 through July 5. That run also involved Interleague Play, including sweeps in Anaheim and Seattle. So the Bucs have put their Interleague record of 26-14 the last two seasons to good use.

The fuel in this engine is not hard to identify. The team's two phases, hitting and pitching, have synced as they never had in the season's first four months. The Bucs' potent offense (second in scoring in the NL) has partnered with a pitching staff that has not allowed more than three runs in 19 of the last 26 games.

After Wednesday night's 9-1 letup, the pressure was dialed back up. This was more Pirates-like; nearly half of their games (74 of 152) have been decided by one or two runs.

Boston right-hander Brandon Workman gave the Bucs a leg up with a first-inning bases-loaded walk of Ike Davis. The Red Sox got that run back two innings later, on Mookie Betts' RBI single.

Chris Stewart snapped the 1-1 tie with a run-scoring single in the fourth, and Starling Marte added his 13th homer the following inning.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Hurdle pushing through hip pain to be with Pirates

Hurdle pushing through hip pain to be with Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- The six-month grind of the Pirates' season may be the most physically obvious right now from an unlikely source -- manager Clint Hurdle.

Whenever Hurdle heads to the pitcher's mound to make a switch, or goes to have a discussion with an umpire, there is a limp in the step of the Bucs' skipper -- one that has grown more noticeable as the season has gone on. Hurdle is overdue for a hip replacement, and is set to go under the knife within days after the Pirates' season ends.

Hurdle, who has kept his spirits up about his arthritic hip, said neither he nor doctors thought the issue would worsen as much as it did during the course of the season. Hurdle, 57, said he was not in a position to get surgery before Spring Training, but with the way things have gone, his "plan A turned into plan B, which turned into plan C."

"The experts I've come across," Hurdle said, "I talked to them a while ago. I said 'So where I'm at right now, ... how many people have you ever had with a hip in this situation? How much more can I push through without having the operation?' They said, 'Well, nobody. You should have had the operation two months ago the way this thing has progressed.'"

With the limp and a redesigned chair in his office, Hurdle says he has a "check and balance" system with the people around him both at work and at home, to make sure he is doing his job.

"The one prayer I say when I get up in the morning, is I say, 'Give me the strength and the courage to burden my pain so my pain doesn't become a burden for others,'" Hurdle said. "On the check and balances I'm getting, they could be from a coach, somebody in the front office, if they feel I'm posting up well, I've been consistent with my approach, my attitude and my energy, I just go home and I lay down."

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Homers help Bucs keep pace in NL Central race

Pirates stay 2 1/2 back as Polanco, Walker, Davis tee off against Red Sox

Homers help Bucs keep pace in NL Central race play video for Homers help Bucs keep pace in NL Central race

PITTSBURGH -- It might be a good idea for the Cardinals, who lead the National League Central, and the Giants, who hold the NL's No. 1 Wild Card spot, to channel Satchel Paige, the legendary pitcher who famously advised, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."

Those footsteps belong to the Pirates, and they are heavy stomps -- essentially what the Bucs did Wednesday night to the Red Sox, stomping them, 9-1, behind a trio of homers and 12 other hard hits for their 10th win in 12 games.

The Bucs have taken 11 of their last 13 series at home, and seven of eight anyplace.

For the moment, you can call them the two-and-a-half men: That is the number of games they are behind both the Cardinals and the Giants -- and is their growing lead over the Brewers for the No. 2 Wild Card slot.

"We still have our eyes set on winning the division," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You just gotta go play. Everybody is playing for something. Last year, we had to play to game No. 162 to catch a breath, and we don't anticipate that changing."

At least, they got a breather Wednesday night, their frequent and relentless strikes against Boston right-hander Clay Buchholz hatching a rare comfortable victory.

It was win No. 81 for the Bucs, by the way -- guaranteeing a non-losing record -- and no one paid particular attention. That would not have been the case from 1993-2012, and Hurdle and his players hailed the silence as a loud victory.

"It's an evolution of what we're about, who we're trying to be, where we want to go," said Neil Walker, who hit the most compelling of the three home runs. "Our goals have changed. In Spring Training, 81 didn't even cross anyone's mind."

"This is the first time it's been mentioned -- and that's a good thing," Hurdle said. "We wanted to get to the point where we've moved past [just looking for a winning season]."

The Bucs' trio of long balls each carried significance.

It began with Gregory Polanco changing his tune. Escorted to the plate by new walkup music -- "Yo Quisiera," by Oscar D'León -- Polanco pulled a first-inning homer, his first extra-base hit in 54 at-bats since Aug. 17.

In the fifth, Ike Davis went to center off reliever Steven Wright with two on for his 11th homer -- and his 10th with the Pirates, giving them nine players in double-figures for the first time in team history.

"When you consider that includes guys playing off the bench and doing what they can to help us win, that's pretty amazing," Davis said. "Pretty cool to be part of that."

In between, Walker celebrated Roberto Clemente Day the only way a Pittsburgh Kid could: By ripping homer No. 21, making it 5-0, over The Clemente Wall and No. 21 mowed into the right-field turf.

"The beauty of this game ... he hits his 21st over the Clemente Wall on Clemente Day," marveled Hurdle. "That's special."

"Things like tonight ... it's kind of strange. Call it fate or whatever you want," said Walker, his mind drifting over the pregame presence on the field of Clemente's three sons and widow, Vera. "I usually try to stay in the moment as much as possible, but it's harder when you see Vera and the boys.

"We're playing good baseball, that's the most important thing, yes, but that was definitely a strange occurrence on Clemente Day. You don't see stuff like that every day. As much as he means to this sport, to this organization, to this city ... and we get to look at that wall every day, and to be able to honor him ... a good night all in all."

Clint Barmes, again subbing at short for stiff-backed Jordy Mercer, had three hits, including a two-run double, to add to Buchholz's misery.

"Last four or five games, I made mistakes during the game, but I didn't seem to pay for them," Buchholz said. "Every mistake I made tonight, I ran into a club that's swinging the bat real well right now. Everybody knows they have a good lineup."

The early assault cheered lustily by the nightly Buccos Nation pilgrimage to the banks of the Allegheny.

With Wednesday's attendance of 34,785, the Pirates' season gate rose to 2,290,051, exceeding last season's total (2,256,862) for the second largest in franchise history. With only four dates remaining in 38,496-capacity PNC Park, the club won't be able to catch the record 2,464,870 drawn in the showplace's debut 2001 season.

Once Francisco Liriano escaped a harrowing first-inning jam, there was the sense he'd been blessed with second wind. Not only did the Red Sox load the bases on him with a Mookie Betts single and a pair of two-out walks, but Liriano fell behind the next batter 3-0.

And that batter was Will Middlebrooks, a career .464 hitter with the bases loaded. Middlebrooks took a called strike, then hit a harmless roller to short for the inning-ending force.

"In that first, he had to push hard," Hurdle said, "and getting out of that inning I believe gave him some momentum."

Making good on his second chance, Liriano went on to total six innings, allowing three hits and one run. His control continued to wander, as he walked five.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["clemente_award" ] }

Players hold Roberto Clemente Award in highest regard

Players hold Roberto Clemente Award in highest regard play video for Players hold Roberto Clemente Award in highest regard

PITTSBURGH -- Roberto Clemente's entire family was on hand for Roberto Clemente Day festivities on temperate Wednesday night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. It was Roberto Clemente day at every ballpark on the Major League schedule but since its inception in 2002, it's always meant something more here in Pittsburgh where Clemente is regarded more as a deity than a mere mortal. Clemente's number 21 was cut into the right field grass by the grounds crew, just in front of the 21-foot right field wall that bears his retired number four times along the top of the out-of-town scoreboard. In a pre-game ceremony, Clemente's widow Vera and her sons, Roberto Jr, Ricky and Luis all clad in No. 21 Pirates jerseys presented a framed Clemente jersey to the Pirates 2014 Clemente Award nominee Charlie Morton.

Though there are no statistical criteria for Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Award, it has become one of baseball's most revered honors since its inception in 1973. The award is presented annually "to the player who demonstrates the values Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others."

Originally known as the Commissioner's Award when created in 1971, it was renamed in Clemente's honor following his death in an airplane crash while attempting to fly relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year's Eve 1972. Most baseball fans who are aware of Clemente's fascinating life story and career as a pioneering Latin American player are also familiar with his tragic demise, which can be seen as the ultimate example of Clemente's selfless humanitarian behavior and a defining element in the creation of the Roberto Clemente Award. However, his wife Vera says he lived every day of his life the same way.

Reflecting on her late husband at the Roberto Clemente Museum's fifth annual fundraiser celebration on Monday night, Vera Clemente told another story of his innate bravery and heroic courage.

"When Roberto was 11 years old and living in Carolina, Puerto Rico, he witnessed a car accident on the main road between Carolina and San Juan when a driver fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed into a tree," she said. "The car had caught on fire and Roberto ran across two lanes of traffic to pull [the driver] out of the wreckage. Other cars had stopped, but Roberto was the first on the scene and pulled [the driver] out of the car.

"During his entire life, from a very young age, Roberto was inclined to helping others. As a Major Leaguer he would visit children's hospitals and nursing homes and he did all these things to help others very quietly -- not seeking recognition -- just doing it for the intrinsic value of helping others."

To Vera and her family, the fact that Major League Baseball recognizes the inherent value of this type of achievement with such an elite award -- which is presented to only one player from a pool of 30 candidates, one from each Major league Team -- is a true honor.

"[It's] very special and very touching and just an amazing feeling for me and our family especially, because Roberto truly believed in helping others. He lived it, he believed it and he did it without trying to receive recognition. He did it because he believed it was the right thing to do and that was his calling."

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder and 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen was his team's nominee for last year's Clemente Award based on his involvement with organizations like Pittsburgh Promise, which develops Pittsburgh urban communities to be more conducive to learning, as well as his signature Cutch's Crew, designed to mentor inner city youth baseball players and at-risk children in the Greater Pittsburgh Region.

McCutchen spoke of the significance of Major League Baseball recognizing Clemente and what Clemente Day means to him.

"It means a lot, but it takes more than one day to be able to explain and have an understanding of who he was," McCutchen said. "He should be someone who is remembered around baseball on a daily basis ... I strive to be the type of person that he was -- doing the job that was set to do for him on this earth and to be able to use his tools and talents and his abilities to impact others in so many different ways and shapes and forms.

"I strive to be that type of person as well. I'm just trying to be that guy who can make a difference and be able to help others, to devote and dedicate my time to those in need."

Pirates' broadcaster and former starting pitcher Steve Blass was a teammate of Clemente's in Pittsburgh and spoke of the high regard current players have for the Clemente Award: "These players are very proud of [being nominated for the Clemente Award]. You look in all the media guides and the players that have been nominated have it included in their bios. It means something to these players and not just the Latino players. It means something because of the way he played the game, the way he played life. Clemente had a presence not only as a ballplayer, but as a humanitarian. And it's not created, either you have that in you or you don't. He had that."

Last year's winner, eight-time All-Star Carlos Beltran, said that receiving the Roberto Clemente Award ranked "No. 1" among the awards and honors he has received in his career.

"Playing the game of baseball is something we have to do," he said, "but giving back, not everyone chooses to do. And that's something that I take a lot of pride in."

Duane Rieder, executive director of the Roberto Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh, said that Beltran was a perfect choice to receive the Clemente Award last year.

"Roberto's dream was having a sports city in Puerto Rico where kids could play sports," said Rieder. "Well, that's Beltran's dream as well, and he did it on the other side of the island. These kids can never even travel to Carolina in San Juan, where sports city is, so he did it on his own and built it, he's an unbelievable person."

Vera Clemente sits on the committee that reviews applications for each team's Roberto Clemente Award candidates and said she was particularly pleased with Beltran's selection last year because of a personal connection he has with the Clemente family. Two of her grandchildren graduated from Carlos Beltran's Baseball Academy designed to assist in the development of young athletes, while also emphasizing the importance of a disciplined approach to education. Vera said the process came full circle when Beltran received the Clemente award and one of her children graduated from his academy with high honors.

Both Vera Clemente and her son Luis said that players who have received the Clemente Award have personally told them what it means to them.

"It's something that the players cherish," said Luis Clemente, "The families of the players that win it tell us how excited they are about it, some have even expressed that it's more important than receiving an MVP award."

The winners of this year's Roberto Clemente Award will be announced at the 2014 World Series.

Charlie Vascellaro is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Doubly good: Bucs make home run history

For first time, club boasts nine players going deep at least 10 times

Doubly good: Bucs make home run history play video for Doubly good: Bucs make home run history

PITTSBURGH -- Before the Pirates' game against the Red Sox on Wednesday, manager Clint Hurdle was asked about eight of his players having 10 or more home runs this season. During his answer, he mentioned Ike Davis was next in line, just one shy of joining the double-digit home run club.

A few hours later, Davis launched a three-run shot to center field -- his 10th this season for Pittsburgh -- and for the first time in franchise history, the Pirates have nine players with at least 10 homers.

"I think it's pretty cool, especially a lot of guys who are platoon players or started as bench players and got jobs or been up and down," Davis said after the Bucs' 9-1 thrashing of Boston. "To do that, it's pretty amazing."

The Pirates, who entered the day tied for the National League lead in on-base percentage, don't have a lot of players with home run numbers that jump off the stat sheet. Andrew McCutchen leads them with 23, and Neil Walker hit his 21st on Wednesday night. But as Davis mentioned, the power is being spread out amongst some players who haven't been everyday fixtures all season.

Joining McCutchen and Walker, the rest of the double-digit homer club includes Pedro Alvarez (18), Josh Harrison (13), Starling Marte (12), Jordy Mercer (11), Travis Snider (11), Russell Martin (10) and Davis (10).

The Indians (who had 10 players with double digit homers) and Mariners accomplished the feat last season, but the Pirates are the first NL team with nine players to notch 10 or more home runs since the D-backs and Braves both did so in 2007.

"It's always relevant when you have a guy who can change a game with one swing of the bat," Hurdle said prior to the game. "To know that you've got guys that can go ahead and ride a ball out of the ballpark, it's a little bit of a safety net."

The pregame question was prompted after Martin hit his 10th of the season on Tuesday, and the playoff-seeking Pirates have hit five in the first two games of the series against Boston -- Davis' making club history.

In reference of the ninth player reaching the 10-homer plateau, Hurdle said: "We followed through right away."

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Clemente always on Tabata's mind

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PITTSBURGH -- Veteran Major Leaguer Jose Tabata spent much of this summer in Indianapolis, healing both physically and mentally, and has no trouble identifying his biggest regret about his two months in the Minor League doghouse.

On Aug. 18, in honor of what would have been Roberto Clemente's 80th birthday, the Pirates had "21" mowed into PNC Park's right field. Tabata's field.

But the acknowledged biggest Clemente idolizer among the current Buccos was still in Triple-A, and he missed the opportunity to play on the hallowed lawn, on a day that would have been more meaningful than usual.

"Everyone here knows how I've always felt about Clemente," Tabata said Wednesday, amid the MLB-wide observance of the 13th annual Roberto Clemente Day. "He was so special playing in this city. I think about him every day, not just on his day."

As a team, the Pirates honored The Great One by visiting Banksville Elementary School, bearing gifts -- which some fans considered curious, in the middle of a pennant race.

"I'll get a handful of notes, 'These guys need to rest. What are you doing out today?' I'll get them every year," said manager Clint Hurdle. "No you don't [need to rest]. You need to go out, you need to support the community, you need to honor Roberto and the Clemente family. It's what Pirates do, this is who we are, this is how we roll and this is how we'll continue to roll -- because it's not just about the game."

"It will be an even more special day if we win," Tabata said. "That is the best way to celebrate Clemente Day."

Entering Wednesday night's game against Boston, the Bucs had a 7-3 record on Clemente Days, twice having had an off-day on Sept. 17.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Starting Morton pays off for Bucs vs. Red Sox

Righty hurls five scoreless innings for Pirates, who hold a WC spot

Starting Morton pays off for Bucs vs. Red Sox play video for Starting Morton pays off for Bucs vs. Red Sox

PITTSBURGH -- It's the proverbial substance of a baseball team on a roll. The players cannot make a wrong move. The manager cannot make the wrong decision. Clint Hurdle, who has had that feeling of infallibility once before, is getting it again.

In an important game, the first of The Final 13, Hurdle decided to give the ball on Tuesday to a pitcher who had not started in 31 days due to injury, and Charlie Morton responded with five shutout innings as the Bucs upended Boston, 4-0, at PNC Park.

"I didn't really have any expectations," Morton said following his first start since Aug. 15, as he stepped from simulated games into the stretch-drive cauldron. "Other than, go out and give it what I got."

He gave the Bucs their 80th win, moving them 10 games above .500 for the first time this season.

With its ninth win in 11 games, Pittsburgh also converted the first chapter of a golden opportunity being presented in this late-season Interleague series: It plays the Red Sox while the Brewers and Cardinals clash in St. Louis, guaranteeing the Bucs of gaining ground on one of their division competitors with each win. The Pirates moved to within 2 1/2 games of the Cards in the National League Central, and they remained 1 1/2 games up on the Brewers for the second Wild Card spot after Milwaukee topped St. Louis on Tuesday night.

The Pirates prefer to have Morton's icy demeanor, veteran savvy and sinker for the pursuit, and hopefully the relish, of October. So he got the ball, and a chance to show what he could still do with it, sports hernia or not.

"That's kind of why we made the decision we made," said Hurdle, of inserting Morton back into the rotation at the expense of reliable Vance Worley. "We feel we got a guy there, we needed to see when he could go and what he could bring. We didn't want to wait any longer, we wanted to have at least something to base a decision on.

"I thought his stuff was very consistent. The sinker played well, a lot of first-pitch strikes ... a very, very professional outing."

Morton led off the Bucs' fifth shutout of the season. The only individual effort among those was on July 28 in San Francisco, a likely Wild Card opponent, by … Worley.

All the support Morton got, and needed, for his first win since July 2 was a two-run homer in the second by Russell Martin off Boston starter Anthony Ranaudo. Starling Marte also connected, in the sixth, for a solo shot that chased Ranaudo.

The bullpen, from Bobby LaFromboise through John Holdzkom to Mark Melancon, safeguarded Morton's first win over an American League team since his very first career victory, on June 14, 2008, as a member of the Atlanta Braves.

The decision to hand the ball to Morton, who had dealt with the sports hernia for 2 1/2 months before finally going on the DL on Aug. 17, puzzled many. Worley had maintained his consistent performance right through his latest effort, on Wednesday in Philadelphia. One had grown to know what to expect from Worley.

But the Pirates' brain trust, from Hurdle to general manager Neal Huntington, had an encouraging sense of what Morton could bring after watching the ball come out of his hand during recent workouts.

"He deserves a lot of credit for the focus he kept while he was down, the work he did on the side, the sim games, all of it," Hurdle said. "He challenged himself, he pushed himself. It's as focused as I've ever seen a guy in sim games."

After the game, Morton wore pretty much the same solemn expression he'd worn following his sideline sessions. Which may have been only appropriate, since he described his physical comfort during Tuesday's game as "pretty much the same as when I've thrown for the past month."

Hernias are popularly associated with some heavy lifting and, while that is not medically accurate, Morton certainly carried a big weight Tuesday night.

His match with Ranaudo was a duel of contrasts. While Ranaudo kept setting down the Bucs in order, Morton kept keeping order, in constant trouble. In five innings, he stranded four Red Sox in scoring position, being most tenacious after Boston led off both the fourth and fifth innings with doubles.

All told, in fact, five of the Red Sox's seven hits were doubles.

"[We had] a number of opportunities. We created opportunities for ourselves throughout the ballgame tonight. We just couldn't cash in," Boston manager John Farrell said.

"Mechanically, I think I was more sound out of the stretch than I'd been previously," Morton said. "I felt good, confident when I had guys on. Like it wasn't really a big deal."

Bottom line, Morton blanked the Red Sox for five frames on four hits, walking two and striking out six.

And he had a lead because Martin followed a leadoff walk of Neil Walker with a home run he could have hit by rote: In his two seasons with the Yankees, he hit eight homers and drove in 19 runs against Boston.

Martin's homer also gave the Pirates eight players in double figures, for the first time since 2007. Ike Davis, the former Mets first baseman who has hit nine of his 10 homers since joining the Bucs, could yet make it nine.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Pirates honor Glasnow, Bell for Minor League work

Righty named Pitcher of the Year; outfielder dubbed Player of the Year

Pirates honor Glasnow, Bell for Minor League work play video for Pirates honor Glasnow, Bell for Minor League work

PITTSBURGH -- Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell are going to be roommates in a few months when they share an apartment while playing in the Arizona Fall League. On Tuesday, they shared something else: being honored as having the best seasons in the Pirates' Minor League system.

Glasnow was named the Pirates' Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the second consecutive season, while Bell was dubbed the organization's Minor League Player of the Year. Both were honored on the PNC Park field alongside director of Minor League operations Larry Broadway prior to the Bucs' game against the Red Sox.

Glasnow, ranked by as the No. 1 prospect in the Pirates' farm system and the 17th in all of baseball, had a 1.74 ERA and a 1.054 WHIP in 23 starts for Class A Advanced Bradenton. The right-hander threw 124 1/3 innings and will be one of five pitchers in the Pittsburgh system who will be throwing for the Scottsdale Scorpions this fall in Arizona.

The 6-foot-7, 21-year-old said he thought he was a better pitcher than he was last season, and he attributed that to his consistency between starts.

"A lot of big leaguers have told me, 'Just get that routine and stick to it and live by it,'" Glasnow said Tuesday. "It's a huge thing that helped. Other than a rough start early in the season, I realized I really need to stick to it and kept going."

Bell hit .325 playing a combined 108 games between Bradenton and Double-A Altoona. A left knee contusion kept Bell out of the final few weeks of the season, but he still managed to tally nine homers, 60 RBIs and an .834 OPS.

Bell said his knee is fine, and he'll be good to go for the AFL. In the meantime, he's going to spend time in the instructional league learning first base.

An outfielder during his professional career, the Pirates have asked Bell to try first base given the plethora of outfield talent they currently have in the organization. It could be Bell's ticket to the Majors, and he'll spend the offseason getting the hang of it.

"It's one of those things where people said, 'You can put on a first baseman's mitt and go ahead and take ground balls and be good to go,'" Bell said. "But there is a learning curve, and I think these next few weeks in instructional league are going to do the deal for me before I go to Arizona and lock it in out there."

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"content":["clemente_award" ] }

Morton named Bucs' nominee for Clemente Award

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PITTSBURGH -- Charlie Morton was named as the Pirates' nominee for the 2014 Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet, Major League Baseball announced Tuesday.

The award, named for the Pirates legend, recognizes the player who best represents baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.

"It's an honor to be nominated by the organization … the emphasis always has to be on helping people, and not getting recognition," Morton said. "It's nice, but it's not why I get involved. It's an honor to be able to help our men and women in the Armed Forces."

"I feel extremely proud of the support that Major League Baseball and Chevy provides to our communities," said Vera Clemente, Clemente's widow and an MLB goodwill ambassador who helps present the award each fall. "I know Roberto would be honored to know the way today's players support multiple causes. ... They are truly role models for today's generation."

Carlos Beltran won the 2013 Clemente Award, and every team has one nominee. Morton, a right-handed starter, is looking to become the second Pittsburgh player to win the award since its introduction in 1971. Willie Stargell is the only Pirate to receive the award, doing so in 1974.

Beginning Wednesday, fans can vote for the award's national recipient at, which is powered by MLB Advanced Media. Voting ends on Oct. 6, and participating fans will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip to next month's World Series. The winner of the fan vote will receive one vote among those cast by the selection panel of dignitaries, from which the honoree will be chosen.

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["clemente_award" ] }

Off-day doesn't lead Pirates to alter rotation

Off-day doesn't lead Pirates to alter rotation play video for Off-day doesn't lead Pirates to alter rotation

PITTSBURGH -- With their final off-day of the regular season behind them and a weekend series with the Brewers -- the team chasing them most closely for the National League's second Wild Card spot -- ahead, the Pirates did not make any immediate shuffles to their rotation.

Charlie Morton, making his first start since Aug. 15, started Tuesday against the Red Sox. He'll be followed by Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, neither of whom is scheduled to face the Brewers this weekend.

Given Monday's off-day, Liriano would have been on regular rest had the Bucs chose to move him up to Tuesday, and that would also have allowed him to face the Brewers as well as put him on schedule to have four days of rest between his final start of the regular season and the NL Wild Card Game, scheduled for Oct. 1. Liriano started and won last season's Wild Card Game against the Reds, and he has a 2.22 ERA since the All-Star break (0.67 in his last four starts).

"[We're] keeping him in a place we feel is most productive for him as well as the group," manager Clint Hurdle said of Liriano. "And, as the conversations went, this is the way we decided to go."

Hurdle also said starting Morton in the series opener against Boston lines up with what the right-hander did in Philadelphia, when the sinkerballer threw a simulated game last Tuesday. Morton has been dealing with a sports hernia in his right hip, and Hurdle said the Pirates would determine a starter for Sunday's series finale with the Brewers, who entered Tuesday 1 1/2 games behind the Pirates, depending on how Tuesday goes. Vance Worley was originally set to throw Tuesday.

The Pirates also had to prepare for the Wild Card Game last season, and they rearranged their rotation accordingly. But Hurdle said that's not something the coaching staff has concerned itself with just yet.

"I think there comes a point in time where you count down games and figure out what you got to do to get in and where it stands," Hurdle said. "We're not anywhere close to that."

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Mercer scratched from lineup due to back tightness

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PITTSBURGH -- Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer was scratched from Tuesday's lineup with back tightness. Clint Barmes started in his place, batting eighth in the 4-0 win against the Red Sox at PNC Park.

Mercer said the issue started after he took six or seven swings in the batting cage prior to the game.

"It came pretty quickly, and I started to get some spasms," he said after the game. "So we decided to just shut down and get some treatment. All the strength tests seemed fine, so we'll see how it is [Wednesday]."

It was the first time Mercer has missed a start since Aug. 26. The 28-year-old has appeared in 138 of the Pirates' 150 games this season, hitting .264/.311/.397 with 11 home runs and 53 RBIs.

Barmes came off the disabled list last month (left groin strain) and went 1-for-3 with a single Tuesday, raising his average to .232.

Worth noting
• A limited number of tickets to possible NL Wild Card and Division Series games at PNC Park will go on sale Thursday at 10 a.m. ET. The sale of tickets, maximum of four to each possible game, can be purchased at or by phone (1-877-893-BUCS). Fans coming to the PNC Park main box office will receive a wristband number to be distributed starting at 7 a.m., and positions in line will be determined by a random drawing of matching numbers.

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["clemente_award" ] }

Family, friends and fans celebrate Clemente at fundraiser

Family, friends and fans celebrate Clemente at fundraiser play video for Family, friends and fans celebrate Clemente at fundraiser

Major League Baseball announced each team's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award -- the humanitarian award presented annually by the league in his honor -- and will celebrate Roberto Clemente Day on Wednesday. But the celebration of his life and contributions began on Monday night when the Clemente family, fans and former teammates gathered at the Roberto Clemente Museum's fifth annual fundraiser gala in "The Great One's" adopted second home town of Pittsburgh.

"They were singing and dancing downstairs and playing the band's instruments. The kids and grandkids are all very into music," said Duane Rieder, the Clemente Museum's executive director and curator.

The atmosphere was very much like being at a family party, which indeed it was. Clemente's widow Vera spent most of the evening visiting and posing for pictures with just about every one of the approximately 150 people in attendance.

"Having this museum in Pittsburgh is a great honor for the family because we know how loyal and genuine the fans here in Pittsburgh have been for so many years. We're happy that they have a place they can come to be with Roberto again," said Vera Clemente, who was recently named a goodwill ambassador by Commissioner Bud Selig, and sits on the committee that reviews the applications for each team's Roberto Clemente Award candidates.

Clemente's sons Luis and Roberto Jr. and grandson Roberto also were in attendance, as well as many members of the extended family. A frequent visitor to the museum, Luis spoke of the family's contribution to the exhibits.

"A lot of the memories from when dad started playing with the Pirates here in 1955 are on display, not only baseball-related but also from his private life. You can find photos and the sales brochures of his apartment that he rented here in town and Eastern Airline tickets. There's a photo of him and mom on a plane together," said Luis while pointing towards a display case on the wall. "We collaborated with Duane and gave him a lot of things."

Located in charming, restored old engine house No. 25 in the Lawrenceville neighborhood about three miles from PNC Park, the Clemente Museum houses the largest collection of Clemente photographs and memorabilia assembled in one place. Many of the items and artifacts on display are on loan to the museum from the Clemente family and assembled by Rieder, a commercial photographer who began creating a Pittsburgh Pirates and Clemente photo archive as part of a calendar project 10 years ago. An extensive new display of Clemente baseball cards was unveiled at the fundraiser party on Monday night.

Former Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen sat in a chair by a wing of the museum that bears his name.

"Roberto Clemente was a special person, he was my angel. ... Roberto gave his life for people he didn't even know. "In his life he wanted to see people happy and he appreciated people he didn't even know." said Sanguillen.

When news arrived on New Year's Eve 1972 that the flight Clemente had boarded to carry relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua had crashed into the ocean near the Bermuda Triangle, Sanguillen rushed to the scene and spent hours searching for Clemente, without any diving equipment, in 120 feet of water.

Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster and former Bucs starter Steve Blass was a teammate of Clemente's for 10 years, including the Pirates' 1971 World Series championship season, and he was also on hand for the celebration and spoke of the special place the museum holds in his heart.

"The Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh is to me a sacred place; unfortunately it's one of the best kept secrets in Pittsburgh," said Blass of the museum, where tours are available. "It is a fabulous testimonial to this man whose legacy will not go away. When you consider how long it's been since he was on this earth and what he accomplished as a player and humanitarian; these many years have passed and still every year there is a movie, a documentary, a book, a playground, a street, something named after him. That does not happen, it just doesn't happen. But it happens because of who Roberto Clemente was, so to have this place, this museum that Duane Rieder has beautifully crafted, is sacred to me. I just love coming here, I drive up the street to this place and I walk in and I feel good."

It's been 42 years since Clemente's death, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another player in baseball history that left such a lasting impression upon his team and its city. His name and image are synonymous with the town. His number 21 remains the most popular on T-shirts and jerseys worn by fans at Pirates home games. The Roberto Clemente Bridge, formerly the Sixth Street Bridge that was renamed in his honor when the Pirates moved into PNC Park in 2001, connects downtown to the ballpark, serving as a grand walkway. Beyond the right-field wall, which rises to a height of 21 feet, the Roberto Clemente Memorial Park contains a series of cascading waterfalls that many people wade in on hot summer days, and a bronze relief in Clemente's image. Roberto Clemente Drive, near the Pirates' old Forbes Field where Clemente broke in with the team, was also renamed in his honor.

Outside of Pittsburgh, Clemente was a hero to a generation of Latin American baseball fans who grew up watching him play around the country. Gabriel LaCosta, 52, was among those in attendance at the museum and recalled being a Clemente fan during the late 1960s. Although LaCosta now resides in Pittsburgh, he grew up in Tijuana, Mexico.

"I was one of six kids, and me and my family would take my cousin, there would be 20-25 of us, and we would go to Jack Murphy Stadium and sit outside and wait for the Pirates to come out," said LaCosta. "You wanted to be Clemente. Everybody wanted to wear 21. Everybody wanted to crack their neck like Clemente did when you came up to bat. Everybody wanted to hold the bat up high. He was amazing, the way he carried himself, what he did for us.

"The biggest influence he had for me was knowing that a Latin American player could make it that big in the big leagues, and later on in my career, when I got an opportunity to work for Apple Computer, the first question I asked myself was, 'Who is this kid from Tijuana working at Apple Computer?' And then I said, 'If Clemente can play in the Majors, then I can work at Apple Computer.'"

And so while the rest of the baseball world awaits this year's winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, his perpetual legacy will continue to be celebrated here in Pittsburgh.

Charlie Vascellaro is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["clemente_award" ] }
{"content":["clemente_award" ] }

Tekulve heads home after heart transplant surgery

Tekulve heads home after heart transplant surgery

PITTSBURGH -- Kent Tekulve, the submarine-throwing relief hero of the Pirates' last World Series championship, is at home recovering from Sept. 5 heart transplant surgery.

This save was on Tekulve, not by the "Teke" of Buccos fame, as Dr. Stephen Bailey performed the operation hours after informing the 67-year-old former All-Star that a match had been located for him.

Tekulve had been on a transplant waiting list since April, four months after a massive Christmas Eve heart attack had confirmed the gravity of the organ.

Tekulve was discharged on Friday from Allegheny General Hospital, and on Monday, he expressed optimism about being able to make his usual appearance at Spring Training next February.

"I definitely wouldn't want to miss it, if at all possible," Tekulve told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Dr. Bailey told The Associated Press that Tekulve is doing "extremely well" and should be "resuming normal daily activities very soon."

The gangly, bespectacled Tekulve saved three of the Pirates' wins in their seven-game triumph over Baltimore in the '79 Fall Classic.

Tekulve had to take a hiatus from his role as an analyst for Root Sports Pittsburgh on Pirates telecasts. His studio duties prior to and after game telecast have been filled by Ken Macha, the former Oakland A's manager.

Tekulve led the league in appearances four times during his career, and he finished with 184 saves and a 2.85 ERA in 1,050 games in the Majors -- the first 722 with the 1974-85 Pirates prior to finishing his career with four seasons in Philadelphia and one in Cincinnati.

Tekulve, a native of Cincinnati, retired as the game's all-time leader in appearances, a record subsequently broken by left-hander Jesse Orosco. Tekulve still stands ninth all-time in appearances, and he had 90 appearances in three seasons.

The AP reported that Tekulve thanked his family and friends, the Pirates, Root Sports and the medical staff. He expressed "eternal gratitude for the gift of life that I received through organ donation."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


For Bucs, Holdzkom can be second coming of K-Rod

Pirates hope reliever has all the factors to recreate magic of 2002 Angels

For Bucs, Holdzkom can be second coming of K-Rod play video for For Bucs, Holdzkom can be second coming of K-Rod

PITTSBURGH -- He materialized out of nowhere in September. With his sharply downward breaking pitches, he quickly appeared in five games in relief, giving up nothing. His manager knew he'd come across something special and began fantasizing about what a secret weapon he could be in October.

John Holdzkom, 2014? No -- try Francisco Rodriguez, 2002.

Twelve years after the Angels procured Rodriguez virtually out of thin late-season air and rode his arm to a World Series title, the Pirates have a chance to recreate that magic: A mysterious reliever, unknown to Major League scouts and batters, locking down the money games.

"I sure hope so," said Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington, who had the final say in the decision to sign Holdzkom on June 23. "I hope we'll be able to have him pitch in some important games in October. I don't know how many scoreless innings K-Rod threw that season, but he was absolutely nails, lights out, and we hope John can do that for us."

The answer is: five. The 2002 Halos did not unveil Rodriguez until Sept. 18, and his stretch-drive contribution consisted of five scoreless appearances -- all in losses, as the club test-ran him to see what it had.

But Angels manager Mike Scioscia knew right away.

"It took us about three pitches to say, 'This guy's pretty special.' It was an eye-opener," Scioscia told on Saturday.

Holdzkom has also made five appearances, all scoreless, facing only one batter over the minimum.

Bucs manager Clint Hurdle thinks he might have something special, too.

"He's just hammering strikes," Hurdle said. "He's very confident on the mound right now. Throwing at a downhill angle, firm."

Rodriguez baffled big league hitters with his split-fingered fastball. Holdzkom also has that in his repertoire, although his featured pitch is the palmball. The splitter, and their early success, is about all Rodriguez and Holdzkom have in common.

The late-September entry made Rodriguez a unique revelation, but he pitched in Triple-A most of that season, his fourth in the Halos' system after having been signed as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela.

Holdzkom was signed from San Angelo, the independent league team with which he was earning $600 a month.

And while at first sighting K-Rod was seen as a little kid who had yet to grow into his 6-foot stature, Holdzkom is 26, and 6-foot-9.

The second-tallest guy in the Pirates' bullpen had heard about the legend of Holdzkom, even briefly met him, long ago. Jared Hughes roomed in 2009 at Double-A Altoona with Lincoln Holdzkom, John's older brother who briefly passed through Pittsburgh's Minor League organization.

"He was always talking about his 'little' brother," Hughes said, "how he was seven feet tall and threw 100 [mph]."

Only slight exaggerations, on both counts. John was a big enough prospect for the Mets to take him in the fourth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft and give him a $210,000 signing bonus. He threw hard, lived harder, injured his elbow and had been released by New York by 2011.

That began a three-year cycle during which Holdzkom matured and remained active on baseball's fringes -- until Tyrone Brooks, the Bucs' director of player personnel, received a mid-June call from Mal Fichman.

Fichman is a longtime independent-ball networker hired in May by the Pirates for the specific purpose of sniffing out independent talent, and he had just stumbled across this big kid throwing in the mid-90s to overmatched batters in the United League.

Brooks consulted with Bucs assistant GMs Kyle Stark and Greg Smith, and with Larry Broadway, director of Minor League operations.

"We happened to have an opening in Double-A, so I got the blessing to sign him," Brooks said. "It takes one team, one person, to really believe in you, and Mal really went to bat for him. John got the opportunity, and has made the most of it."

"Having been bounced by too many teams, I definitely feel the pressure to do well," said Holdzkom, who has no hard feelings about having had to wait so long for a genuine chance. "I can't complain about the journey. I've had other chances, just didn't capitalize on them. I had to mature, and just get comfortable as a professional."

Holdzkom is "a little surprised" to immediately get thrust into a key role. It may just be beginning.

It could follow the Rodriguez blueprint. By the time the 2002 postseason began, Scioscia had no hesitation: K-Rod appeared in 10 of the 11 wins that carried the Angels to the World Series crown, totaling 28 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.

"When we saw his stuff and looking at how our bullpen was shaping out and some of the holes we were trying to fill, it became an easy decision," Scioscia recalled. "We didn't originally put him in the back end of our 'pen. First [Division] Series against New York, he was pitching in the middle. But by the time we got to the Minnesota [Championship] Series, he was pitching in the eighth inning [setting up closer Troy Percival] and pitching really well."

"There is that similarity -- of being unknown," said Hurdle. "Of an unknown guy being able to make a late-season difference, yeah."

As a native of Pasadena, Calif., Holdzkom is very familiar with the K-Rod phenomenon.

"Yeah, I remember watching him come up with the Angels," Holdzkom said. "If we keep winning, it will be a lot more fun. And if I can help out in any way, I'll be happy."

So, too, will Fichman.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Triple play sparks Pirates in finale win over Cubs

Bucs erase three-run deficit after turning around-the-horn feat

Triple play sparks Pirates in finale win over Cubs play video for Triple play sparks Pirates in finale win over Cubs

PITTSBURGH -- It could have been a day to define the Pirates' brushfire essence, and the astonishing Most Valuable Player candidate who is regularly the chief arsonist.

Minutes after triggering the first triple play in PNC Park's 14-year history, Josh Harrison doubled for two runs to also trigger a six-run, fifth-inning rally that carried the Bucs to a 7-3 victory Sunday over the Cubs.

With their eighth win in 10 games, the Pirates kept pace with their prime postseason competition, as Milwaukee and St. Louis both registered wins. The Brewers remained 1 1/2 games behind the Bucs for the National League's No. 2 Wild Card, while the Cardinals retained their 3 1/2-game Central Division lead.

Most responsible for keeping the status quo was Harrison, whose defensive play provided the biggest momentum changer imaginable.

A sellout crowd of 37,655 had been kept silent for three innings by Chicago right-hander Jacob Turner as his mates built a 3-0 lead over Edinson Volquez.

"It was definitely the tipping point of the game," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

"It was huge. It fired up people. After that we were ready to go," said Andrew Lambo, the trainee first baseman who found himself on the finishing end of a triple play in his very first big league game at the position.

"We were in a spot where we were playing just flat for the first several innings," said second baseman Neil Walker, the middleman. "All of a sudden, that kind of momentum carried over into the offensive side of things."

First on the flip side was Walker, who with one out in the fourth found the center-field bushes with his 20th homer -- breaking his tie with Bill Mazeroski (1958) for the most ever by a Pittsburgh second baseman.

"Record-breaking homer, or triple play?"

"Regardless," laughed Walker, breaking up over the preference query, "it was a pretty cool day."

Seconds after gloving Matt Szczur's hard grounder with men on first and second and none out in the fourth, Harrison was dashing into the Bucs' dugout, with an exhorting fist pump.

"You could feel it right away, as soon as we turned the triple play," Harrison said. "Then Walker hits the home run. We do a good job of not letting whatever happened affect us. We just kept pushing."

The aftermath of this triple play was a bit better than the last time the Bucs had gone around-the-horn on a triple killing. After bouncing into that in the nightcap of the July 23, 1979, doubleheader at Three Rivers Stadium, Braves righty Phil Niekro went on to complete a two-hit shutout.

This time, the Pirates grew offensive fangs immediately to chew up the Cubs' 3-0 lead.

Walker's opening salvo was a mere prelude: The Pirates sent 12 men to bat in the fifth, a six-run inning detonated by Harrison's two-run double.

"Walker sparked us with the homer, then we connected some dots and did some nice things on offense," Hurdle said. "We covered some balls up that we weren't covering earlier. We weren't finding the barrel until Walker's homer."

Walker was somewhat sheepish in discussing having broken a Mazeroski record.

"I haven't really thought that much about it. As I've said before, I'm humbled just to be in the same breath as other people on that list. To get to this point is very humbling ... and I'm happy that I got there."

The Cubs had taken advantage of Volquez's throwing error to score twice in the second, and stretched their lead to 3-0 in the third on the rare combination of a seeing-eye single and a seeing-eye throw. First, Javier Baez perfectly placed a grounder between Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer. Then, on Baez's steal of second, catcher Russell Martin's throw sailed between Mercer covering the bag and Walker backing up.

The throwing error sent Baez to third, in position to score on Chris Coghlan's sacrifice fly.

It only seemed to be getting graver for Volquez in the fourth -- before Harrison came to the rescue and flipped a switch.

"I've said before ... he can do everything. He's a great player, man," Volquez said. "He saved that inning, gave me a chance to get out of there, then I was able to shut it down and make better pitches the last four innings."

Volquez threw shutout ball for the remainder of his seven-inning stint as he ran his spotless lifetime record over the Cubs to 7-0. In earning his 12th win of the season, he allowed one earned run and four hits, while working his way around five walks and striking out five.

"[Harrison] helped Edinson out," Hurdle said. "He found a 'go' button and got into a real good lane. Five, six, seven -- he really pitched well."

After five losses in six games and 10 days to the Pirates, Chicago manager Rick Renteria left town impressed.

"They're a very good ballclub," Renteria said. "They've got the components of pitching and the offense and they play really good defense. They make plays when they need to and they get big timely hits when they need to. You've got to grind them out."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Bernie Pleskoff

Flame-throwing Holdzkom a great find for Bucs

Righty was drafted in 2006, but came to the Pirates from independent ball

Flame-throwing Holdzkom a great find for Bucs play video for Flame-throwing Holdzkom a great find for Bucs

During a recent Friday afternoon contest, I was sitting next to colleague Tom Singer in the Wrigley Field press box, intently watching the Cubs play the Pirates. Singer mentioned the name John Holdzkom, who was warming up in the Bucs' bullpen. He didn't tell me anything about him, only that he was warming up down the foul line.

Then it happened. I got to see Holdzkom pitch. I think every baseball lover should watch Holdzkom pitch. What a treat.

For seasoned baseball fans, Holdzkom reminds me of Dick Radatz, a huge right-handed reliever who spent most of his big league days with the Boston Red Sox in the mid-1960s. He also played for Cleveland, Montreal, Detroit and the Cubs. Radatz was bigger than life at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds. To put it gently, Radatz didn't always know where the ball was going. In his Major League career, he walked almost four players per nine innings, while striking out close to 10 per nine. I think the best term for Radatz was "effectively wild," while falling behind in counts. Plenty of hitters feared facing the hard-throwing reliever.

Holdzkom is taller than Radatz by an inch. Instead of 230 pounds, Holdzkom is only 225. At 26 years old, after years of struggles with his command, control and to some extent his own inner demons, Holdzkom is getting an opportunity. And really, that's all any player wants: a chance. Holdzkom is getting an opportunity to continue pitching professionally. He's pitching on baseball's Major League stage, working late in games from the Pirates' bullpen. Having been dropped off several baseball rosters, Holdzkom is gaining steam as a late-inning reliever in the midst of his team's pennant chase.

Holdzkom can throw his sinking two-seam fastball at 94-96 mph with little to no effort. His four-seam fastball hits 97 with ease. Holdzkom also has a wicked slider. There is little doubt he could fashion a 100-mph fastball any time he wishes. But that's not going to happen very often. The lower velocity helps Holdzkom throw strikes. As does a revised grip on the baseball, as shown to him by a pitching coach named Demetrius Banks.

Banks altered Holdzkom's grip by changing his fingers from a spread position to being closer together. A simple enough fix, to be sure. Lack of command and control, serious issues that were once major hiccups for the righty, are now on the verge of being permanently resolved.

I saw Holdzkom throw strikes. I saw Holdzkom throw high-velocity fastballs with late, sinking life. He dispatched hitters with ease. In fact, in Holdzkom's first five Major League innings pitched over five late-game appearances, he yielded one hit and struck out nine. He walked one. Holdzkom has gone from having control nightmares to providing nightmares for those he must control. He's a force.

Holdzkom went to high school in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., in the heart of the Class A Advanced California League. The New York Mets selected him in the fourth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. However, command issues and Tommy John surgery in 2008 forced Holdzkom out of their plans. The Cincinnati Reds were the next organization to give Holdzkom an opportunity. Once again, his inability to throw strikes on a consistent basis cost him a role. In 2012, Holdzkom walked an incredible 13.5 men per nine innings with the Class A Advanced Bakersfield club.

Had Holdzkom not been discovered by Pirates scout Mal Fichman while he was playing independent league baseball, he may have gone on pitching in obscurity. But Fichman saw the velocity and the command/control of a renewed, revitalized flame-thrower with San Angelo earlier this season. After having pitched for Amarillo and Sioux City in 2013, Amarillo again in 2014 and finally for San Angelo, Holdzkom got to pitch in the Bucs' organization. Beginning in June this year, he made his way through Pittsburgh's Minor League system and made his Major League debut on Sept. 2.

Like Radatz, Holdzkom can be an intimidating force on the mound. Perhaps he has found a more permanent home with the Pirates.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.