PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Pittsburgh Pirates are all-in as they chase the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 21 years.
So is Justin Morneau.
And for Morneau, the opportunity to get back in a playoff race proved too good to pass up. It’s why he hustled from Texas _ where the Twins were playing the Rangers _ to Pittsburgh to hang out with his new teammates for the final four innings of a 7-1 win over St. Louis that lifted the Pirates into first in the NL Central as the calendar flips to September.
“You try to get here as quick as you can because you want to be a part of this,” Morneau said.
The Twins obtained outfielder Alex Presley and either a player to be named or cash in Pittsburgh’s second major move in a week. The Pirates sent a pair of minor leaguers to the New York Mets on Tuesday in exchange for outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck.
“We’ve got more depth, we’ve got more options than we had four days ago,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’re a better team. We’re a stronger team.”
The Pirates have been in contention all season thanks in large part to a pitching staff currently second in the majors with a 3.17 ERA. Morneau’s presence could have an immediate impact on an offense that ranks 10th in the NL in runs.
The 32-year-old Morneau hit .259 with 17 homers and 74 RBIs this season for Minnesota and is finishing off a red-hot month in which he smacked nine home runs.
“I think he’s found some ways to spark some things offensively in the second half,” Hurdle said.
The Pirates will pick up the remaining portion of Morneau’s $14 million salary, estimated at around $2 million. It’s not an insignificant investment for an ownership group that has sometimes shied away from paying the tab for proven players.
Yet with Pittsburgh on the cusp of its first winning season since 1992, Huntington worked aggressively after the non-waiver trade deadline to give the Pirates the pieces they need to remain in a tight three-team divisional race with St. Louis and Cincinnati.
“We made Clint’s job a little bit easier,” Huntington said. “He’s got a number of weapons at his disposal now.”
While Huntington believes he’ll be “mocked” for thinking the Pirates are true World Series contenders, he and Hurdle made a compelling case to Morneau, who had to OK the trade that ended a sometimes spectacular 11 seasons in Minnesota.