Late-season adds Byrd, Morneau making impact
Outfielder continues roll in NLDS; first baseman heating up, delivers pair of RBIs
ST. LOUIS -- Six weeks ago, Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd were both bright spots on scuffling ballclubs -- Morneau with the Twins and Byrd with the Mets. On Friday, the two, anchored in the heart of the Pirates' playoff lineup, helped fuel Pittsburgh to a 7-1 victory in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium.
"Something I never imagined," Byrd said. "You always want to get the postseason and play, but until you get here, you don't know what it's like. It's just an amazing feeling. Making that run all the way through September with this team and then coming into October trying to help this team win, I'm just having fun with it."
The duo combined for three hits (two doubles), four runs and an RBI in Friday's six-run victory against the Cardinals. Morneau, who won the American League MVP Award with the Twins in 2006, had seven previous games of postseason experience. Byrd, a 12-year veteran with stints with seven clubs, is in his first playoff stint.
"Marlon's a veteran presence," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He has layers of mental toughness, physical toughness, mental discipline. He plays with an edge. He is the culmination of a lot of years of experience in the Major Leagues. A lot of ups, a lot of downs."
The two deals -- acquiring Morneau from the Twins on Aug. 31 and Byrd (and backup catcher John Buck ) from the Mets on Aug. 27 -- significantly altered the Bucs' roster, adding depth across the diamond. Byrd hit .318 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 30 regular-season games for the Pirates, while Morneau hit .260 in 25 games.
Byrd's long wait -- 1,250 regular-season games without a playoff appearance -- paid off on Tuesday when he got Pittsburgh on the board in the NL Wild Card Game, breaking a scoreless tie in the bottom of the second with a home run to left. The outfielder was seventh among active players on the list for most games played with no postseason appearances.
"He doesn't have an ego," Hurdle said. "He has no fear and a lot of respect for everything that he does, and that is kind of the way our team is put together. No fear. Fear nothing, respect everything. So he's added in a lot of different areas: The stability in the middle of the lineup, the ability to produce runs, get big hits, and he's a very good defender as well. But I do like the presence of the man, the edge that he brings."
And with his 2-for-5 day on Friday, Morneau has hit safely in his last five postseason games and seven of 10 in his career. He's 9-for-21 (.429) with two homers and two RBIs in his last five, with the first two of those coming with Minnesota.
"Just watching these guys, you can see the slow heartbeat," second baseman Neil Walker said. "You can see them slowing down at-bats, slowing down situations. And I think when you get into these tough games and these games that are very meaningful, you look to certain guys who have been here before and see how they handle it."
It has been a slow work in progress for Morneau, who is getting his first consistent look at NL pitching. He endured an 0-for-14 slump early in his Bucs tenure, but Hurdle has noticed progress.
"He hasn't gotten in a groove, by any means, or hot," Hurdle said. "He hasn't gotten the ball in the air at times. There are always challenges for you in this game. Coming into this environment, there might have been some times when he might be pushing the pedal a little bit too hard. Doesn't matter how many years you have. It's a different situation. It's a different group of guys. You want them to know you're here to make a difference, and then you want him to make that difference.
"I think he's finding better rhythm, better rhyme at the plate. He's going to help us and he already has in many other ways, and the bat is a big part of it."