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Pirates have renewed momentum, favorable schedule

The SportsXchange

The calendar will turn to September on Saturday and the Pittsburgh Pirates will be in contention for their first postseason berth -- and winning season -- in 20 years.

What will happen next? Might pigs actually start flying?

"You never know in this game," veteran setup reliever Jason Grilli said after the Pirates blanked the St. Louis Cardinals 5-0 on Wednesday night. "Think back to 2008. Who thought the Tampa Bay Rays would go to the World Series that year? If you believe in yourself and take each day as it comes, anything is possible in this game."

The Pirates have not been in contention this late in a season since 1997, when they finished second to Houston in the National League Central.

After winning two of three in the series with St. Louis this week, the Pirates drew within one game of the Cardinals in the chase for the second NL wild card. Furthermore, the Pirates won the season series 8-7, meaning they would play host to either the wild-card playoff game or a one-game playoff to get into the wild-card game if the teams finish the season tied.

"It's exciting to be playing for something this late in the season," first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones said. "It's what you play for. At the same time, you can't get too wrapped up into it. You've still got to concentrate on what you're doing and what you need to do to be successful."

That is why Pirates manager Clint Hurdle did not get too excited about winning the St. Louis series.

"What it means is we won two more games," Hurdle said. "Other than that, we've just got to worry about the next game."

The Pirates were off Thursday, and their next game is Friday night when they visit the Brewers in Milwaukee for the start of a three-game series. However, the series victory over St. Louis seemed to re-establish the Pirates as serious contenders.

The Pirates have gone just 11-16 in August after posting three consecutive winning months for the first time since 1992. Consecutive lethargic losses, 7-0 to Milwaukee on Sunday and 4-3 to St. Louis on Monday, dropped the Pirates three games behind the Cardinals, and they seemed headed to oblivion.

However, they bounced back with two shutout victories over the Cardinals, winning 9-0 behind right-hander James McDonald on Tuesday and then getting another fine start on Wednesday, from left-hander Wandy Rodriguez.

Suddenly, the Pirates look re-energized and ready for a playoff push.

The schedule works in their favor -- only nine of their last 32 games are against contenders. They play a pair of three-game series with the Reds, Sept. 10-12 at Cincinnati and Sept. 28-30 at home, and finish the regular season with a three-game home series against Atlanta on Oct. 1-3.

"We went through a bad stretch for a few weeks in August, but every team goes through a bad stretch at some point," Grilli said. "When teams win championships, they don't look back at that kind of stuff. They only remember that they finished on top."

It might be a stretch to think the Pirates can win the World Series this season. However, they are at least still very much alive in the playoff hunt, and that could make for an interesting September.

"For us to respond the way that we did, I'm very proud of the effort," Hurdle said following Wednesday's game. "I've been proud of the effort all year long, and, obviously, the last two nights' results are what we're looking for."
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