Pirates practice ��� walk-off homer drill

BRADENTON, Fla. -- It might be the greatest spring training drill ever:

The walk-off home run celebration.

It was choreographed by those innovative Pittsburgh Pirates this week. And all their manager, Clint Hurdle, would say about it was this: It wasn't his idea.

"Sometimes," Hurdle said Wednesday, "you have to get out of the way and let the players do their thing."

So whose thing was this? We skulked around and located the perpetrator -- a fellow who looked a lot like Brandon Inge. And how did this brainstorm come about, you ask? Well, it wasn't quite up there with Edison inventing the light bulb.

"Basically," Inge laughed, "I was pulling the lazy veteran move."

Here's the deal: This great moment in spring training history occurred Monday at the end of a morning baserunning drill. Every position player involved had to run out a single, double and triple, a first-to-third sprint, a mad first-to-home dash and, for the grand finale, an inside-the-parker.

Whew. We're tired just from typing that. And so, it turns out, was Inge, the longtime Detroit Tiger who's in Pirates camp in search of a super-utility role.

He also happened to be the last player in line as this drill unfolded. So he turned to catcher Russell Martin and said, "I'm walking this off right here."

Turned out he wasn't kidding.

“There’s no chance in hell I'm going to hit an inside-the-park home run, so I didn't see the point of practicing that,” Inge said. “I might hit a walkoff, though.”

So when his turn to "hit" arrived, he didn't short-change himself. He took a mighty hack -- without a bat. He watched the imaginary baseball disappear. Then he beat his chest and began to trot.

He slapped five with a first-base coach who forgot to exist. He pumped his fist a couple of times as he rounded second. He low-fived a third-base coach who was nowhere to be found. Then he fired his cap into the sky (“I had to flip the hat. I didn't have a helmet.”) and jumped into a sea of Pirates humanity. Or something like that.

It was as historic as spring moments ever get at 9:30 on a Monday morning -- a team working on its walk-offs instead of its PFPs.

“Yeah,” said second baseman Neil Walker. “You don’t see many walk-offs with nobody pitching and nobody on.”

To be factual here, you didn't see many walk-offs from the Pirates, period, last season. They hit just three game-ending homers all season -- two of them by players who are no longer anywhere to be found in Bucco Land (Rod Barajas and Drew Sutton). But hey, it's a new year. And "you want to prepare for everything," Martin quipped.

Inge's assessment, two days after the head-pounding and pogo-sticking had died down, was, basically: It's a good thing this was just a rehearsal.

"Nobody punched me at all," he reported. "I was a little disappointed."

But Martin said he thinks that this team is ready to go, any time the first real walk-off of the year erupts.

“Actually, I hope we don't have any because I hope we lead in the ninth inning every game,” he said. “But just in case, be prepared. And I hope the first one comes from Brandon Inge."