The Pittsburgh Pirates know where to find Chris Coghlan if they believe in eye-for-an-eye justice.
That’s how a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review column previewed this showdown at Wrigley Field: “Will Pirates-Cubs finally boil over?” These two teams already appeared headed toward a collision in the National League’s wild-card game on Oct. 7.
And then Coghlan took out one of Pittsburgh’s most valuable players when he slammed into Jung Ho Kang last week at PNC Park, breaking the infielder’s left leg and tearing a knee ligament with an aggressive slide.
“It was a good baseball play,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s 3-2 loss. “There’s nothing to cause retribution at all. I would hope not. For me, for us, it’s a dead issue. And that’s it.
“I think the people involved within the Pirates, they understand that. Others that may want to fan the flames are just fanning flames. They really don’t know what they’re talking about.”
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That column mentioned a feeling around the Pirates that mirrored the reaction from Pittsburgh fans on social media: Why did Maddon sound insensitive, downplaying a potential knee injury and saying he heard Kang had plantar fasciitis?
“It wasn’t my thought,” Maddon said. “It was coming from the Pirates’ side. That’s what I was hoping — that it wasn’t that serious. There’s no way I would ever make something like that up or even think about that.
“That’s what we had heard. And I thought: ‘Oh, good, then he’s not that badly hurt.’ That was my first thought. That’s all.”
Coghlan is a deeply religious person who plays with an edge and doesn’t take this for granted. He knows what it’s like to turn a double play, come back from a serious injury, get non-tendered and compete for a job after signing a minor-league deal.
Kang, a shortstop/third baseman from South Korea, is looking at a six-to-eight month recovery period after making his mark (15 homers, 58 RBIs, .816 OPS) during a superb rookie season. Hours after that devastating play, Kang exonerated Coghlan with a statement released through his agent.
Even if there are no fireworks this time — Maddon compared the St. Louis Cardinals to “The Sopranos” last weekend — Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has certainly noticed a different vibe around the Cubs.
“You’d have to be blind not to,” Hurdle said.
After enduring 20 consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates have become a model organization in many ways, combining scouting-and-player-development methods with a strong analytical structure to clinch a playoff spot for a third straight year.
After stripping down the big-league product and sitting through five consecutive fifth-place finishes, the Cubs are on the verge of securing a wild card in Year 4 of the Theo Epstein administration.
“It was a work in progress,” Hurdle said. “When the new front office came over, they had a direction and a purpose. Everybody has direction and purpose. How it plays out? Nobody ever shows up on a new job and says: ‘You know what, let me wake up and see how I can screw things up.’ No. Managers don’t. Coaches don’t. Front-office executives don’t. General managers don’t.
“There comes a point in time where things make more sense. They find more rhythm and rhyme — and they have. They’ve been able to cultivate a very fertile and solid foundation of young players that have skills. They’ve also created a pitching staff that’s got experience, and (they) went about that a couple different ways. They have a good team. There’s no doubt.”