Flame-thrower

Closer Joel Hanrahan found success with the Pirates — and he’s hungry for more.




Photo courtesy of Dave Arrigo, Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan is an avid tweeter. But he’s made it his policy to stay out of trouble on the site — or so he hopes. “I don’t talk about other teams; I don’t talk about other players,” he says, rattling off the rules. “I don’t do the trash talking.”

In fact, even when haters try to goad the pitcher into a confrontation with some choice words, Hanrahan laughs it off. “I enjoy it when people tell me I suck,” he jokes. “I don’t talk back. I just say, ‘Thanks — you’re my No. 1 fan.’”

The 30-year-old Des Moines native wasn’t always so confident. “When I was with the [Washington] Nationals, I was going to the park every day wondering whether I was going to get released.” That’s certainly a far cry from his current role as the anchor of the Pirates bullpen, where he’s emerged as one of the game’s most intimidating closers.

The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted Hanrahan in 2000. He toiled in the L.A. farm system until 2006 and decided to test free agency rather than stick with a club that didn’t have big plans for him. He was quickly picked up by the Nationals, who took long looks at him in a number of roles over the next two seasons. But, like the Dodgers, Washington just didn’t seem like they were all-in on Hanrahan.

However, when the Pirates traded for him early in the 2009 season, Hanrahan knew it was a now-or-never opportunity. “I changed my mindset: ‘Just go out there and relax,’” he says. It’s all part of the elusive zen of baseball. “When you release the ball, it’s out of your hands.”

His new club was willing to show patience. “[Former Manager John] Russell and [General Manager Neal] Huntington told me they weren’t going to put me in high-pressure situations to start off,” he says. Their immediate expectation? “Go out there with the mindset of getting a couple people out.”

As a reliever in 2009 and 2010, those outs started to pile up. Eventually, the bullpen phone started ringing during save situations. And opposing batters started to fear the flame-thrower’s fastball, which inched close to 100 miles per hour. For the first half of the 2011 season, the surging Pirates delivered Hanrahan lead after lead, allowing him to dutifully obliterate the last threat and seal up a number of wins Pittsburgh hadn’t seen in two decades. They flirted with first place and remained solidly in contention for about two-thirds of the season. Then ... well, the young team started to waver under the pressure. “We learned it’s not a 100-game season; it’s a 162-game season,” Hanrahan reflects. “And teams will start to figure you out and adjust to you.”

Perhaps, though, that’s just what the Pirates needed — a taste of how things could be, while also learning some lessons along the way. “A lot of the guys had never really won a whole lot, and we gained that experience.” Most importantly, with success comes desire. “Guys became hungrier after last year.”

Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage sees that passion in Hanrahan and knows that he’s a closer who can help the team harness its potential. “He’s very disciplined; he has a gritty exterior,” Searage says. “But he cares deeply about his team and his teammates. “I’m a firm believer [that], in order to be a mature pitcher, you also have to be a mature person. And that’s one thing that Joel does bring to the table.”

Searage cites a need to utilize a slider more often as the main change for Hanrahan this year. For the most part, though, there’s no need to improve on success. In addition to being named to his first All-Star Game in 2011 — “It was the most nervous I’ve ever been on a baseball field,” he says — he finished the season with an intimidating 1.83 ERA, ranking sixth in the National League with 40 saves. There’s no reason to expect anything but more of the same in 2012 —  batter after batter watching that blistering fastball rocket toward the catcher’s mitt.

Yet for all the fire, for all the intensity in Hanrahan’s eyes when he’s preparing to ring up another hapless slugger, he’s a man of calm and perspective. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. This is a guy who’s as eager to talk about his awe-inspiring goatee — he didn’t shave it from Spring Training on last year, and he is inclined to try that again for 2012 —  as he is to talk about his fastball. This is the same man who handed the shoes off his feet to a dedicated young fan after the final out of 2011 at PNC Park.

A man who knows that, of course, “at the end of the day, you’re still playing a kid’s game.” Play like a kid. Throw like a cannon. That might be the zen of Hanrahan.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

The second annual gaming festival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center brings 8-bits of weekend fun.
Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Riverlife hopes the temporary project will lead to permanent, decorative lighting of all three of the city's Sister bridges.
Mt. Lebanon Native Daya Nominated for MTV Video Music Award

Mt. Lebanon Native Daya Nominated for MTV Video Music Award

It's the first MTV nomination for the 17-year-old singing sensation.
Remembering A Rescuer of Gentle Giants

Remembering A Rescuer of Gentle Giants

Richard Kohl devoted most of his adult life to caring for homeless large-breed dogs.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Edit Module

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

The second annual gaming festival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center brings 8-bits of weekend fun.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Thyme and Place

A Thyme and Place

Old friends Tricia Cohen and Lisa Graves reconnect via Facebook and collaborate on a historical cookbook.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


Garfield Bar Mixtape Is a Great Hangout (And a Good Bar, Too)

Garfield Bar Mixtape Is a Great Hangout (And a Good Bar, Too)

Part craft-cocktail joint and part coffee bar, the welcoming spot wants you to stay a while.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Optimism With An Asterisk As Good As It Gets In Steelers Training Camp

Optimism With An Asterisk As Good As It Gets In Steelers Training Camp

Although NFL teams never simply pick up where they left off the previous season, there’s reason to believe the 2016 Steelers could resemble the team that came agonizingly close to knocking off the eventual Super Bowl Champion Broncos in Denver last January.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Sanuk’s Yoga Sling Sandal are super comfy yet chic.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

Reviews of "Ghostbusters" and "The Infiltrator," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

This Pittsburgh bride brought all the details together for a flawless “Alice in Wonderland”-themed wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Coming Soon: Historic Lawrenceville Building Ready for Makeover

Coming Soon: Historic Lawrenceville Building Ready for Makeover

Real estate crowd-funding platform Small Change Pittsburgh is raising funds to transform the Butler Street building.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

The university landed in the top 10 schools for disabled students seeking an online education.

Comments