Neil Walker knows what it's like to watch a Pittsburgh Pirates season slip away. It happened time and again during his childhood, when one fruitless summer led to another for his hometown team.
It was exasperating, but it wasn't nearly as painful as what happened last fall, when the second baseman's back went out and Pittsburgh's hopes of making the playoffs for the first time in 20 years soon followed.
The Pirates were 68-59 on Aug. 27 when Walker began to feel the effects of what was eventually diagnosed as a herniated disk. He missed 27 of the team's final 35 games, gritting his teeth as the Pirates faded from contention.
''There's not a more helpless feeling as a guy that's used to playing every day than to not be out there and help the team, especially in times of need,'' Walker said.
Replacement Brock Holt struggled to provide a spark either at the plate or in the field and Pittsburgh's offense all but disappeared without help from the steady switch-hitter determined to re...