From first to free fall: Pirates suddenly plunge

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The sellout crowds that had been drawn in by the strong play of the Pirates in June and the first three weeks of July were booing during losses of 15-5 and 13-2 on Friday and Saturday.

Hurdle, in his first year of managing the Pirates, understood the fans’ reaction.

“If you’ve ever been involved in sports at any level, you’ve been involved in a situation where you don’t win,” Hurdle said. “At the major league level, this is the life we’ve all chosen, so you understand what comes with it, whether it be public scrutiny, whether it be fan displeasure. When you do well, people cheer. When you don’t do well, people can boo. That’s always part of it.”

The 1981 Minnesota Twins and the 1884 Detroit Wolverines are the only two other teams in big league history to drop from first place to 10 games back in the standings in a two-week span, each doing it in 14 days. But there’s a caveat with them: They were 0-0 at the time, so their designation of being first-place team when the collapse began might come with an asterisk.

The 1994 Milwaukee Brewers are the only other team since 1930 to endure an in-season free fall from first to a double-digit deficit in 15 days of less.

“There’s going to be problems and there’s going to be challenges and adversity and losing streaks,” Hurdle said. “And along the way, now how you get through those as an organization and as a team is what can define you and actually make you better in the long run.”

It isn’t getting any easier for the Pirates, who are 0-7 since getting Lee and Ludwick. Next up are games at San Francisco and at the division-leading Brewers, whose 11-1 run has coincided with the Pirates‘ skid and has been equally responsible for Pittsburgh’s historic rapid drop in the standings.

Looking like a shoo-in for NL manager of the year just mere days ago, Hurdle is facing his first true crisis in a season in which it seemed he could do no wrong through almost four months.

In recent days, Hurdle has publicly come off as more jovial than even when things were going well. In his dealings with the media, the sometimes-fiery former Rockies skipper has put on the proverbial happy face and kept a calm, measured demeanor while preaching a don’t-panic, stay-the-course approach.

The players appear to be buying in. They emerged from a players-only meeting following Saturday’s game talking about how they pledged to stick together.

“We have a group of guys here that’s pretty special, and we all kind of have each other’s backs,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “But it doesn’t make it any easier to go through, there’s no doubt about that.”

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