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Postgame: Pirates take series against the Cardinals, remain in the hunt ... somehow

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Notes and quotes from today's postgame:

Bucs still in the hunt

With the way this season is going I definitely should have known better, but I'll admit that after the top of the seventh of last night's game, when the Pirates bullpen blew another lead and the health of Andrew McCutchen was once again very uncertain, I was fairly convinced that the Pirates were in the initial stages of the final unraveling of their postseason hopes. If I am even more honest, I've had that feeling more than once.

The doubleheader sweep in Baltimore was probably the first time I thought the season was becoming irretrievable. But, the improbable emergence of Josh Harrison helped right the ship, and the Bucs started clawing their way back to .500.

Then, the homestand of June 6 to 12 happened. First Gerrit Cole went on the disabled list (June 8), then Neil Walker (June 9) and, finally, the coup de grace, Francisco Liriano strained his oblique (June 11). Sure, Gregory Polanco also arrived (also June 11) but it was hard to imagine him jolting the offense like he did. More importantly, suddenly the Pirates were going forward with a rotation that would include Vance Worley, Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke and an inconsistent Charlie Morton. "Not good" is how I described the situation in a post during that period, with the full expectation that the team would dip back below .500 and into obscurity.

Of course, the opposite happened. Somehow between June 12 and August 11, the Pirates went 31-21 and found themselves just 2.5 games back.

But then Andrew McCutchen went on the disabled list, Walker was injured and Pedro Alvarez was switching positions. Suddenly the team had Brett Morel and Michael Martinez and Jayson Nix getting regular at bats. Certainly the end ...

Well, none of the certain ends have been The End for this team this year, and after taking an important series against the Cardinals the Pirates are still very much in the race.

After today's game Clint Hurdle provided a straightforward reason for his team's ability to keep itself relevant seemingly against the odds.

"If you want to cut to the chase, it's called grit," Hurdle said. "We got a lot of grit. We don't have a perfect club. We don't play perfect. I don't manage perfect. ... But we play, and believe in each other and we trust each other."

Hurdle's explanation is so cliched, it almost uninteresting. For those of us who look for more tangible factors, it's even cringeworthy. But, as Hurdle has emphasized from his very first press conference of the season, he believes there is an important human element to this game that matters, and that analysts have forgotten. I don't think he's right that it's been forgotten, it's just very difficult to measure. And, if the recent SABR seminar in Boston, where numerous speakers spoke to new areas of research on the "softer side" of sabermetrics - i.e. the human factor - is any indication, new efforts to study the phenomenon are the frontier for baseball research.

In any case, the point is that the Pirates are still in the race and it's sometimes difficult to figure out how. If the manager, who spends more time with the team than anybody else thinks its "grit" and camaraderie, we probably should at least acknowledge them as having something to do with the team's survival to this point.

Martin starts

Russell Martin typically gets the day off when there is a day game following a night game. But with an importance of today's game, there was some speculation (indeed, even some strong opinions) that Martin would/should be in the starting lineup. He did start, and he went 2-for-3, scored one run and helped Jeff Locke pitch a very fine game today.

"We asked him to just let us know how you feel today," Hurdle said. "And we gave him some more time when he got here. After he worked out a little bit he said, ‘Hey, I'm good to go.' And we also explained to him that we don't want urgency. If you're not good to go, let us know. And to a man, they have."

Jeff Locke, for one, was very thankful Martin was behind the plate tonight.

"Russ was on top of his game again today," Locke said. "I know I throw it, but I feel like he does most of the work."

Locke's start

Jeff Locke was the definitive underdog in his matchup against Adam Wainwright, but he ended up both outlasting and out pitching his mound opponent. He went seven plus innings to Wainwright's six, and grabbed the win by throwing a ton of ground balls and relying on his defense.

Locke said that pitching against Wainwright did make this start a little bit different, but real challenge was taking on the Cardinals.

"It's the Cardinals as a whole really that adds to it," Locke said. "Year after year they're there to the end. They play a very strong nine innings every night."

One of the keys to Locke's performance was staying in the strike zone. After allowing six walks in his previous start, Locke said that Martin gave him some advice in preparation for this game.

"Last week Russ said to me, ‘Hey, maybe next time we can throw strikes earlier in the count. You know it's a little harder to hit when you're down than when you're 2-0 all the time.' And, he's right."

Davis homers in back-to-back at bats

Ike Davis hit a dramatic three-run home run that proved the difference in the Pirates 5-2 victory Tuesday. In his first at bat today, he hit another home run deep into left center field.

"Back-to-back big swings, yeah," Hurdle said. "It's the first time he's been involved, you know, in games, as he said, that have this much significance this late in the season. ... The big swing last night, to get us out of the blocks tonight, that's another big swing."

"I've felt great in the box for the last month," Davis said. "I'm not always getting hits, but at least squaring up a couple balls a game and walking. If I'm walking that usually means I'm seeing the ball pretty well."

Reaction to losing streak

Davis acknowledged that the team got a little frustrated during the recent seven game losing streak, and it created some tension in the clubhouse.

"It was a little chippy in here [during the seven-game losing streak]," Davis said. "Losing seven in a row, things that don't usually agitate you might agitate you a little bit. But we stayed the course and hopefully we'll keep winning series."

Alvarez not available

Hurdle said that Alvarez was not available as a bench player today.