Pirates' six home runs erase Reds, secure home field for wild-card game


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CINCINNATI -- It wasn't enough for the Pirates to clinch home-field advantage for the National League wild-card playoff game in front of a national television audience. They put style points on the board as well.

Neil Walker hit two of the Pirates' six home runs Saturday in an 8-3 win against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. The win improved the Pirates' record to 93-68 and ensured that the Reds (90-71) will finish behind them in the National League Central Division.

"It's been a long time," said Marlon Byrd, who also homered. "These guys have worked hard the past couple years to get to this point. We're here now."

A few dozen Pirates fans in attendance took advantage of the emptied stadium in the ninth inning to start an audible pro-Pirates chant.

The two teams will meet Tuesday night at PNC Park for a one-game playoff, with the winner advancing to the National League Division Series.

Walker, Byrd, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Andrew Lambo homered. Five of them came against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo, who allowed six runs on eight hits in 42/3 innings.

"We had good at-bats," Byrd said. "What we do is try to build on it, but that doesn't come easy. We have to keep hitting with runners in scoring position, getting on, making pitchers work and try to get them tired."

Walker hit a full-count fastball up in the zone for his 15th home run of the season with two outs in the third. McCutchen followed suit, taking Arroyo's hanging slider out for his 21st of the season, and the Pirates had a 2-0 lead.

No sooner had the Reds overtaken the Pirates when Alvarez tied the score with his 36th home run in the fourth. Alvarez took the first pitch 431 feet away to the base of the PNC power stacks in right-center field, giving him 874 feet of combined home runs in the past two games.

Walker homered again, this time to center field, on the first pitch he saw in the fifth. It wasn't until Byrd homered into the Reds bullpen later in the inning that Reds manager Dusty Baker had seen enough.

Lambo hit his first major league home run against Logan Ondrusek in the sixth. The dugout gave him the silent treatment until Byrd wrapped him in a bear hug.

"You're just flying around the bases, really," Lambo said. "It's a cool feeling. I can't really explain how many better feelings you're going to have than that one. It's pretty amazing. It's also good because we got a victory out of it."

Considering Charlie Morton's start, the Pirates picked a good day for their power display. Morton lacked his command and worked into trouble in three of the five innings in which he pitched. He escaped without allowing runs in two of the troubling innings and finished 41/3 innings, allowing three runs and walking five.

Morton made a mess in the first when he allowed the first five Reds batters to reach base, but he held them scoreless.

Shin-Soo Choo took Morton's first pitch off the shoulder in the third. He advanced to second on a groundout and third on a wild pitch. Joey Votto walked. Brandon Phillips singled, scoring Choo.

Jay Bruce doubled off the wall in left-center field, scoring Votto and Brandon Phillips to give the Reds a 3-2 lead.

Morton allowed 10 baserunners, including four walks, in the first four innings. Manager Clint Hurdle sent him out for the fifth.

"I believed he would go out isand put up a zero," Hurdle said.

Two quick singles and a one-out walk loaded the bases, and Hurdle summoned Vin Mazzaro, who struck out Zack Cozart.

"I'm just trying to get ahead and see if I can get a first-pitch ambush, see if I can get a quick rollover," Mazzaro said. "I wound up going to the slider to the end to finish him off."

Ryan Hanigan lined out to end the inning. Mazzaro has stranded 28 runners on base this season, tied with Bryan Morris for the most on the team.

"I felt pretty pumped," Mazzaro said. "That was a big moment in the game. Charlie pitched his [butt] off. I just wanted to go in there and keep it where it was at."

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 28, 2013 7:00 PM


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