In this May 22, 2013, file photo, a Pittsburgh Pirates fan waves a flag attached to a broom after the Pirates’ completed a three-game series sweep of the Chicago Cubs with a 4-2 win in a baseball game in Pittsburgh. The Pirates headed into Memorial Day weekend as one of the baseball’s biggest surprises. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)


Hurdle, who emails daily inspirational missives to a lengthy list of acquaintances and has an eclectic stack of self-empowerment and baseball history books on his desk, called the dismal 9-22 finish to 2012 a “pebble” in his team’s shoe. Whenever he feels his players getting ahead of themselves, he encourages them to find the stone and dig their heel in as a reminder of the pain.

“You need to hold onto that angst,” Hurdle said. “You need to find a way to keep fighting back. Maybe there’s a game won here that got away from us last year or a game you find a way to scratch out because of a bouncing ball in right field. They add up.”

They’re adding up quickly. Pittsburgh went 8-2 on its recently completed homestand, including a 5-4 victory against hapless Houston when two Astros players collided trying to catch a routine fly ball in the bottom of the ninth allowing Travis Snider to plate the winning run.

It’s the kind of game the Pirates used to lose with regularity. Now, not so much. Just don’t call them lucky.

Led by A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and a resurrected Francisco Liriano, the pitching staff has a 2.41 ERA in May, easily the best in baseball. The offense hasn’t been spectacular but timely, like Travis Snider’s pinch-hit grand slam against the Cubs in a 5-4 victory on Tuesday.

And when the Pirates get up, they stay up. Pittsburgh is remarkable 23-1 when leading after seven innings thanks to a bullpen that set-up man Mark Melancon dubbed “The Shark Tank” because as Grilli puts it “when we smell blood, we attack.”

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