ATLANTA -- If you believe manager Clint Hurdle, the late-game theatrics that the Pirates have seen both sides of in April and May will only serve the team well if it continues to play well enough to stay in contention and experience the drama of September and October.
"I believe it can sharpen you, and that's the way I encourage our guys to look at it," Hurdle said on Wednesday. "The heightened sense of responsibility and the execution I really believe is going to continue to sharpen us and challenge us, because the beauty of what's going on is you have to meet the demands of the game if you want to win."
Eight of the Pirates' last 10 games have been decided by two runs or fewer, with the Bucs holding a 5-3 record in those close contests. The Braves turned the tables on the Major League leaders in comeback wins with a 5-4 walk-off win of their own on Tuesday, peppering a Pirates bullpen that pitched 15 innings in last weekend's series against Cincinnati.
However, the Pirates spoiled a two-on, one-out situation in the top of the ninth against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel that could have salvaged a game in which the offense offered some rare early run support for starter Jeff Locke.
"We get to the ninth, we get a chance to get one run up and our closer coming in, we miss that opportunity, and we had two shots at it," Hurdle said. "It'll be nice when this offense can pick up some steam and provide us with a little more of a safety net off the mound, because that's where the challenges have been with all these close games."
After Pedro Alvarez' solo home run gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead in the fourth, Atlanta pitchers retired 13 Pirates in a row until Pittsburgh's ninth-inning threat. Meanwhile, the Braves put at least one runner in scoring position in eight of Tuesday's 10 innings, stranding 13 runners in the process but still scraping across enough runs to win. According to Hurdle, the onus lies with the offense to create opportunities, even if it can't cash in every single one.
"To finish the way we did, with I don't know how many consecutive guys retired to finish out the game, that's hard," Hurdle said. "We have to keep battling. The guys have taken it upon themselves, they're aware. They just have to find a way to do better, get better results by trying less."
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.