PITTSBURGH -- Considering the rarity of five-game series, it should not come as a surprise that Clint Hurdle never had to manage one prior to this week's set against the Cardinals.
Nonetheless, instincts alerted him to the unique challenges of playing five games in four days against the same team. Chief among them: having fresh relief arms as needed every step of the way.
Through the first four games, things could not have gone better for the Bucs, due in large part to their first three starting pitchers -- Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and rookie Brandon Cumpton -- all going seven innings. That made Jeff Locke's unusually short shift on Wednesday -- four innings -- manageable.
"We have been able to navigate without too many overwhelming challenges, knock on wood," Hurdle said. "So far. … Got one more game."
If the Bucs win the finale and complete the five-game sweep, they will take their place on a short honor roll. Some outtakes from that list:
• MLB's last five-game sweep occurred relatively recently, on Aug. 18-21, 2006, when the Yankees swept out of Fenway Park, outscoring the Red Sox, 49-26.
• The Pirates' last five-game sweep was from Sept. 12-15, 1996, in San Francisco; in Pittsburgh the Bucs had a five-game sweep as recently as Aug. 18-21, 1995, against the Marlins in Three Rivers Stadium.
• Conversely, the Cardinals apparently had never been swept in a five-game series, a disclaimer that is semantic at best: They were swept in a six-game series on Sept. 23-27, 1916, by the New York Giants.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.