The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — As the owner of the locker just to the right of the main entrance to the common area of the Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse, Garrett Jones arguably has the best panoramic view among his teammates as he sits at his stall.
Since first establishing himself as a major-league regular with Pittsburgh three years ago, the players he sees when he surveys the clubhouse has changed dramatically.
So have the results.
The Pirates are the toast of baseball, owners of the majors’ best record at their precise midpoint of their season (51-30).
Should they maintain that pace over the next three months, they would win 108 games just three seasons after the desultory 2010 Pirates lost 105.
Jones says the faces he encounters aren’t the only thing that have changed over the course of that turnaround.
More importantly, so has the attitude.
“There’s absolutely been a huge difference in confidence,” Jones said before a 2-1 Pittsburgh victory over the Milwaukee Brewers extended its winning streak to nine games Sunday. “When you’re losing, you kind of get caught up in it and it gets ingrained in your head and sometimes it’s tough to get it out. Now, everything and everybody is positive. We just focus on, ‘We’re going to win, we can win, we will win.’ We just had to change that mind-set around and be confident in ourselves.
“And it’s shown on the field.”
Has it ever. The Pirates hold a two-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals not only in the National League Central, but also in the race for the best record in baseball. Saturday, they became the first team to reach 50 wins — doing it before July 1 for the first time in the 127-year history of the franchise.
That’s heady stuff for an organization — and a fan base — that has suffered through 20 consecutive losing seasons, a record for any North American major professional sports league.
“We’re over it. We don’t want to hear any more of that,” veteran starting pitcher A.J. Burnett said. “I understand the frustration outside the locker room but we don’t even think about that. We think about the present and how good of a ballclub we are.”
Whether or not the Pirates’ pace of winning is sustainable through the end of the season is more in question in the context of collapses the past two years. It appeared the run of losing seasons could end in 2011 when the Pirates were 53-47 after 100 games — until they sputtered to a 19-43 finish to end with 90 losses, that is.
That late flop pales in comparison to last season, when Pittsburgh topped out at 16 games over .500 as late as 110 games in — only to limp through a 16-36 stretch to end the campaign.
“But now you’ve just got everybody buying in,” Burnett said. “You’ve got some new pieces to the puzzle that were added in the spring, and once everybody got settled in and everybody realized that the guys we got are 100 percent ‘in’ like everybody else, it seems to be we’re all clicking on the same cylinders.”
With 12 games remaining before the All-star game, there’s a good chance Pittsburgh will surpass its 2010 win total prior to the break. Then again, after what happened the past two seasons, seemingly no one associated with the Pirates is getting too caught up with where they sit in the standings during July. Maybe in 2011, first place — no matter the point of the season — was cause for elation.