Tracy Ringolsby

Bucs seeking ways to solve Busch puzzle

Bucs seeking ways to solve Busch puzzle

ST. LOUIS -- In the middle of his fifth year as the manager of the Pirates, Clint Hurdle has overseen one of the more dramatic turnarounds in baseball. For all the Bucs have done, however, there remains an unmet expectation.

The Pirates haven't been good enough to unseat the Cardinals, who are headed toward a fifth consecutive postseason appearance and are in position for a third consecutive National League Central title.

Busch Stadium has become baseball purgatory for the Bucs.

Busch Stadium is where the Cards pulled out a 4-2 victory on Wednesday night, with all four runs getting an assist by the Pirates' defense. The Bucs go into Thursday's series finale looking for their first win in what will be their sixth game at Busch Stadium this season.

The Pirates are an eye-opening 5-19 there the last three years, though not much else has gone wrong for them in that same span. They are coming off back-to-back postseason appearances that ended a 20-year postseason drought and a stretch of 20 consecutive losing seasons, including 10 seasons of 90-plus losses.

But the Bucs have not been able to master the new Busch Stadium, where they are 26-50 since the ballpark opened in 2006.

"It is like life," said Hurdle. "You don't get to make up all the rules. One thing that makes you grow up in adversity. Nobody holds up their hand to stand in the front of the line, but it's what you deal with."

Nobody said life was fair. Some things just happen.

Hurdle remembers coming up in Kansas City's farm system in the late 1970s. The Royals won American League West titles in 1976, '77 and '78, but each time they were knocked off in the AL Championship Series by the Yankees, losing in the maximum five games the first two years and in four games in 1978. It didn't seem to matter what Kansas City did, New York had the answer.

George Brett hit three home runs off Catfish Hunter in Game 3 in 1978. Thurman Munson only hit one, but it came with a man onboard in the bottom of the eighth, lifting the Yanks to a 6-5 victory and setting them up for the clincher in the next game.

In 1976, Brett hit a three-run homer in the top of the eighth to tie the score at 6 in the fifth and deciding game of the ALCS, only to see Chris Chambliss unload a walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth.

In 1980, however, with Hurdle playing first base, the Royals swept the Yankees in the ALCS to advance to the World Series for the first time.

"You don't get frustrated," said Hurdle. "You don't look for sympathy. You don't quit. You keep working until you find the answer."

The answer, however, is rarely easy to find.

"It is something I don't have words for," said center fielder Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates' struggles in St. Louis. "We show up and give it everything we have. All we can do is keep showing up and keep trying to put runs on the board and get a win."

It's something like Gerrit Cole walking fellow pitcher Michael Wacha to open the third inning, setting the stage for the Cardinals to take a two-run lead when, with the bases loaded and one out, first baseman Pedro Alvarez was unable to come up with a one-hop throw from second baseman Neil Walker for what could have been an inning-ending double play.

McCutchen led off the fourth with a home run and delivered a game-tying triple in the fifth, but in the bottom of the sixth, with one out and one on, right fielder Gregory Polanco made an ill-advised diving attempt on a sinking liner off the bat of Yadier Molina, and the ball got by him for a triple that keyed a two-run go-ahead inning for the Cards.

"That's the same," said McCutchen. "No one is trying to make errors or not make plays. Sometimes it happens."

And it has happened enough in St. Louis that it takes a bit of the swagger out of a Pirates team that has the third-best record in the big leagues at 65-46 but is stuck in second place in the NL Central, seven games behind the Cardinals.

"No excuses," said Cole. "This is the big leagues. You don't get points for trying hard. I'm disappointed I didn't make pitches to pick up the team. I want to be the guy that steps up and stops this. To do that, I'm going to have to be better."

The attitude is there. The result, however, isn't.

And truth be told, the entire NL Central -- not just the Cards -- is a headache for the Pirates. They are 20-29 within the division and don't have a winning record against any of the four opponents. The Bucs are 45-17 against the rest of the baseball and have a losing record against only two teams outside of the NL Central -- the Nationals (3-4) and Royals (1-2).

But the Pirates are winless at Busch Stadium, and they lost the first four games by one run.

Then came the two-run loss on Wednesday. The Bucs left the bases loaded in the fourth. They stranded two men in the fifth, including McCutchen, who tripled with one out, and in the sixth, which Alvarez opened with a double.

"We put ourselves in a position to win," said Hurdle. "We had a lead in four of the five games [in St. Louis], and [on Wednesday] we came back and tied the game up. We are not finishing the job."

Hurdle paused.

"We have to figure out a way to play better," he said.

It sounds so easy.

It has been so difficult.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.