Not so much anymore.
The arrival of pitcher A.J. Burnett in 2012 and catcher Russell Martin last winter signaled a sea change. Both players have World Series rings. Both still had something to prove. Both wanted to be part of something significant.
They weren't alone. Former AL MVP Justin Morneau agreed to leave the Minnesota Twins after a decade to spend the final month of the season in Pittsburgh. Journeyman outfielder Marlon Byrd raced from New York to PNC Park for a chance to reach the postseason for the first time in his 12-year career.
Their paths, much like Liriano's, shadows the franchise's fall and subsequent rise. Once considered one of the game's future stars, Liriano spent five years searching for a new identity after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007. He's found one in a ballpark where he is 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA this season.
"He's a Pirate,'' Hurdle said. "There's a lot of Pirate in every guy in there.''
The Reds - equipped with postseason experience, as they've made the NL playoffs three times since 2010 - will try to make sure the Pirates have to wait another year before taking the next step. Cincinnati spent much of the season as the third team in a three-way race with St. Louis and Pittsburgh for the NL Central title. Despite looking lifeless at times down the stretch, the Reds received a jolt by the return of right-hander Johnny Cueto.
The 27-year-old missed most of the season with back problems but has been solid since his return on Sept. 16. The Reds are also likely to have in their lineup Brandon Phillips, their star second baseman who left Saturday's game with a leg injury.
Cueto - with less on the line of course - has been clutch vs. the Pirates. He is 13-4 with a 2.37 ERA in 21 career starts against Pittsburgh, numbers that are even better at PNC Park, where he is 8-2 with a 1.90 ERA.
"I don't know how to explain it,'' Cueto said. "I just do my job.''
If he can find a way to do it one more time, the Reds will play in St. Louis on Thursday. If not, baseball's unlikeliest success story will continue, just the way Hurdle envisioned.
"I think we're a perfect snapshot of our city,'' Hurdle said. "We're not perfect. We get down, we're going to get up. We get knocked down again, we're going to get up again.
"We'll continue to fight for what we believe in.''