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Pirates might give Cubs lessons when it comes to culture change

StarlCastro’s solo homer off Chris Resop eighth inning Wednesday secured Cubs’ fourth victory row — first this season.  |

Starlin Castro’s solo homer off Chris Resop in the eighth inning Wednesday secured the Cubs’ fourth victory a row — a first this season. | Gene J. Puskar~AP

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Updated: November 14, 2011 12:18AM

PITTSBURGH — Lou Piniella said it when he took over as Cubs manager. Dusty Baker said it before that. Carlos Pena said it a few days ago.

The Cubs must change the ‘‘culture.’’ It’s been a recurring theme on the North Side almost as long as there have been losing seasons there.

Whatever it means, the Cubs are staring it in the face this week in Pittsburgh, where the only team in greater need of a culture change seemed to find one this year under new manager Clint Hurdle.

And don’t look now, but that makes just one more good, young talented team the Cubs have in front of them as they try to dig themselves out from back-to-back lost seasons.

All of which might make Wednesday night’s tooth-and-nail pitching duel — a 1-0 win over the former division-doormat Pirates for the Cubs’ first four-game winning streak of the season — more significant as a potential preview of things to come in the National League Central.

‘‘They’ve got pitching and young talent,’’ Alfonso Soriano said of a Pirates team that went into August just 41/2 games out of first, bought at the trade deadline and could be on the verge of snapping a major-league-record streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons.

‘‘A couple of years ago in our division, you had to beat only one team — St. Louis,’’ Soriano said. ‘‘Now every team in the division is getting stronger. Every year they’re getting stronger. Every year it’s getting harder for us to get to the playoffs, because if we stay with the same kind of the same team, we can get a little bit better, but those guys, they get better every year, too.’’

None are more improved this year than the Pirates — who, unlike the Cubs, had nobody in authority or on the field who even knew firsthand what a winning team in Pittsburgh looked, smelled or sounded like.

Talk about needing a culture change.

‘‘I think it was one of the bigger tasks at hand,’’ said Hurdle, who interviewed — and analyzed — his players individually after getting the job and carefully handpicked a coaching staff based on track record, teaching ability and toughness.

‘‘I knew going in that we would have to take on an Instructional League mentality as far as teaching, but the mind-set was critical,’’ Hurdle said. ‘‘I came in telling these guys that the game has absolutes that you have to answer to every day, and if we can get them to bring their attitude and effort every day and to play the game to the staples that the game demands, we can win baseball games.’’

Especially if they pitch and catch the ball —things they’ve improved significantly since losing 105 games last year.

The Pirates’ starting pitcher Wednesday, Charlie Morton, was a guy who went 2-12 a year ago but who was going after win No. 9 this year when he shut out the Cubs on five hits through his seven innings.

The Cubs on this night were able to outlast Morton to eventually beat the Pirates because of another seven scoreless innings from they guy who might be next year’s Opening Day starter, Matt Garza (5-8), and a home run leading off the eighth by the Cubs’ best young hitter, shortstop Starlin Castro.

‘‘He got a fastball up, and he did what we think he’s going to do more of down the road,’’ Cubs manager Mike Quade said of Castro’s fourth homer of the year. ‘’And obviously it was a huge moment.’’

Garza, the Cubs’ hard-luck pitcher of the season who admittedly was angry about being lifted after walking the leadoff man in the eighth, seems to like the Cubs’ chances of building into next year, right along with some of the new, young tough guys in the division.

‘‘Our defense is shoring up a little, cleaning up a little,’’ Garza said, speaking to what’s behind this four-game winning streak. ‘‘It’s called progression. You’re seeing it, especially with those two young guys in the middle [Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney]. . . . It’s growth before your eyes.’’

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