PITTSBURGH -- Inhaling the air of expectancy that hung over PNC Park early Friday afternoon, manager Clint Hurdle admitted this was the day for which he has waited three years.
Not to get here. But for the opportunity to work through it.
"It's not finished. But it's heading in the right direction. I played my part, but we still have parts to play," Hurdle said a few hours before the Pirates were to host the Reds in the first of three games that have a large say in aligning the National League's postseason field and venues.
"I just had a conversation with someone about this. They looked me in the eye and said, 'So this is why you came here?' And I said, 'Absolutely. I envisioned this,'" said Hurdle, hired in November 2010 as the Bucs were coming off a 105-loss season. "Did I know when it would happen? No. But did I believe it would happen? Yes."
A social animal who has woven himself into the community, Hurdle does not have to go out of his way to take the pulse of the fan in the street.
"It's good to get better, for so many people," Hurdle reflected. "I couldn't tell you how many people have said, 'This hasn't happened since ...' and they can tie it to so many things. 'I just got married [when the Pirates last had a winning season], now I got six kids ... I'm a grandfather.'
"It's crazy. It's life."
Liriano's 1,000th K sets new Pirates staff record
PITTSBURGH -- Francisco Liriano was not able to celebrate a 17th win Friday night after the Pirates could not protect the three-run lead he walked out on after eight innings.
But nobody could take away the left-hander's 1,000th career strikeout -- of Chris Heisey, in the eighth -- so did Liriano celebrate that?
Well, he might have, had he known about it.
"That's news to me. I don't follow that stuff," Liriano said after the Bucs' heartbreaking 6-5 loss in 10 innings to the Reds. "I had no idea."
The Pirates' fans in attendance did and gave Liriano a warm ovation after he recorded the strikeout.
The same strikeout that was career No. 1,000 for Liriano was the Pirates' 1,193rd of this season, breaking a 1-year-old club record. With Liriano picking up one more and Mark Melancon adding another strikeout, the Bucs' record total is at 1,195 with eight games remaining.
Pirates do homework on speedster Hamilton
PITTSBURGH -- To paraphrase an infamous quote from the 1988 vice-presidential debate, Clint Hurdle made the point Friday afternoon that, "I knew Herb Washington, and Billy Hamilton is no Herb Washington."
The Cincinnati Reds' "secret weapon," Hurdle knows, brings a lot more than did Charlie Finley's baserunning specialist of the Oakland A's of the mid-'70s -- who stole 48 bases and never had a plate appearance.
"I was still playing the game when Herb Washington was in," the Pirates' manager said prior to Friday night's game, "and [Hamilton] is not just a track star. He's a baseball player who can steal bases. This guy is a good young player."
Hamilton, one of the Reds' callups to the expanded September roster, had four steals before his first Major League at-bat -- then went 3-for-4, with four more stolen bases, in his first start Wednesday.
Yes, Hurdle conceded, the Pirates have crammed for Hamilton.
"We got the video tape, spent an afternoon breaking it down," Hurdle said. "We talked to our Triple-A guys who played a volume of games against him. We put a program together ... pitchers, catchers, fielders, everyone included. We're ready; we definitely did our research. We'll see how it plays out."
One potential edge, however slight: Only two of Hamilton's nine steals have come with a left-hander on the mound. The Pirates started Francisco Liriano on Friday and will have Jeff Locke going on Sunday -- plus a trio of southpaws (Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Kris Johnson ) in the bullpen.
• Each of Gerrit Cole's last three starts have come following a Pittsburgh loss, and the rookie right-hander has won each while compiling an ERA of 0.90 and piling up 28 strikeouts in 20 innings. Those 28 K's match the total for his first eight starts, when he was still feeling out the league.
• Michael McKenry, who underwent left knee surgery on Aug. 18, isn't exactly hopping around the Pirates' clubhouse -- but The Fort is walking without crutches, and without a limp.
• The Pirates' eight Minor League affiliates had an aggregate record of 444-394 this season, for a winning percentage of .530 that ranked fourth among NL and seventh among all 30 MLB organizations.
• Wilson was still only a "maybe" for Friday's game, but will definitely be on call Saturday. He has merely been getting some downtime due to his workload.
First number, last word
1,192: Pirates pitchers' club record for most strikeouts in a season, set in 2012; the Bucs began Friday night's game six whiffs shy of breaking that standard.
"This is the most important game we'll play all season ... then we'll play another one [Saturday]." -- Hurdle, putting Friday's game, the first of six in 10 days against the Cincinnati Reds, in context.
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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.