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Pirates not content with breakout season

The Streak, the one that loomed over the Pittsburgh Pirates for two ignominious decades, is dead. Over. Done. Discarded. Smashed by an improbable summer and a thrilling fall.

Now what?

Unburdened from the yoke of failure that loomed for 20 years as an ominous cloud over the franchise, the Pirates can point to the future with eyes wide open.

What exactly the future holds, however, remains unclear.

In a way, the man who shrewdly guided the franchise from 105-loss laughingstock three years ago to a 94-game winner that pushed the St. Louis Cardinals to the brink in the N.L. division series knows the easy part is over.

“The sustainability is what separates great organizations,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We were able to take a huge step forward this year in restoring the pride and the passion of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization, and rebonding our city with a ball team.”

The evidence lay in the signature Jolly Roger flags that came out of hiding across the city of Pittsburgh. It could be seen at packed PNC Park, where record crowds poured through the turnstiles and made baseball matter again in a city where it has long played third fiddle behind football and hockey.

It could be felt in a clubhouse comprised of young talent and established veterans unbowed by the club’s miserable recent past.

When asked to describe the success of left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano – who revived his flagging career by going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA – Hurdle said Liriano “has a lot of Pirate in him.” Pressed on what exactly that means, Hurdle stumbled upon an ethos that resonated from the front office down to the bat boys.

“In the movies that I’ve watched and the books that I’ve read, there seems to be a spirit of I really don’t care what anybody thinks anymore, I’m crossing the line, I’m going to become a Pirate,” Hurdle said. “… I’m going to be my own man. I’m going to hope to latch on to a bunch of other men who feel the same way, that are like-minded, and try to get something special done.”

The fact a world championship evolved into something very tangible will only fuel an offseason designed to prove the last six months were no fluke.

“I think it’s one thing to be happy and one thing to realize how far along we come and how much we can improve,” third baseman Pedro Alvarez said.

The last time Pittsburgh made the playoffs, it took 21 years to get back. There are no plans to have the gap repeat itself.

“This franchise is a great franchise, a franchise that won,” McCutchen said. “We’re going to continue to keep that sail up on that boat and keep going.”

Clearing the bases

Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly, who shined as a replacement starter with St. Louis, will oppose Dodgers starter Zack Greinke in the opener of the NLCS today. … After consulting with several doctors, Orioles 3B Manny Machado will have surgery to repair a ligament in his left knee. … The Cubs agreed to a two-year contract with OF Ryan Sweeney that includes a club option for 2016. Sweeney is due $1.5 million in 2014 and 2015, with the club holding a $2.5 million option for 2016 with a $500,000 buyout.

Tags: baseball, MLB

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