Three homers, solid pitching lift Pirates over Reds, 6-2
October 2, 2013 1:35 AM
The crowd of 40,487, the largest paid attendance in the history of PNC Park, cheered wildly for the Pirates.
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Andrew McCutchen scores on a sacrifice fly by Pedro Alvarez in the third inning.
By Bill Brink Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Clint Hurdle relaxed on Monday night. He helped his daughter, Maddie, with her math homework. He played chess with his son, Christian. He spent time with family and friends here for the festivities Tuesday. He went to bed at 10:30 p.m.
It didn't sound like Hurdle did much fretting about the wild-card playoff game Tuesday night, despite the stakes: Lose to the Cincinnati Reds, and the Pirates' successful season, the bookend to 20 years of incompetence and disappointment, would end with only a toe dipped into the playoff waters.
The Pirates validated Hurdle's attitude when they defeated the Reds, 6-2, at PNC Park to earn their first playoff victory since Oct. 13, 1992.
"I feel this is probably going to be the most difficult part of the playoffs for us," said Andrew McCutchen, who went 2 for 3. "Playing one game, knowing we need to win it, our backs are against a wall, that's definitely going to help us in the future."
The win sent the Pirates to the National League Divisional Series against another Central Division opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals. That series will begin Thursday in St. Louis.
The crowd of 40,487, the largest paid attendance in the history of PNC Park, channeled its inner college football fan and dressed in black for the occasion, spurred into action at the urging of Pirates players via social media. The fans booed the Reds off the field after batting practice. They watched as everyone from McCutchen to the training staff, ran out of the dugout while being introduced and lined up down the third-base line.
"It was pure energy from pitch one to the last out," said Neil Walker, who went 2 for 5. "Even in announcing the teams. That was one of the most impressive moments I've ever been a part of."
They erupted after the Pirates' three home runs. Two of them came from Russell Martin, who became the first Pirate to hit multiple home runs in a playoff game since Bob Robertson hit three against the San Francisco Giants in the 1971 NLCS.
"My hands were a bit quicker than usual," Martin said. "The crowd gave me some energy."
Martin became the second player to hit multiple home runs in a postseason game in Pittsburgh. The other? Mickey Mantle.
The matchup set up nicely for left-hander Francisco Liriano, and he didn't disappoint. Liriano, who held opposing left-handers to a .321 on-base plus slugging percentage in the regular season, kept Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in check. Liriano completed seven innings, allowing one run and four hits and striking out five. Choo, Votto and Bruce went 1 for 8 against him.
The Pirates advanced by besting right-hander Johnny Cueto, who had a 1.90 ERA in 13 starts at PNC Park before Tuesday. He started the game because Mat Latos had an elbow issue. Cueto made only two starts after returning from his third trip to the disabled list this season, all because of problems with his right lat.
Before leaving in the fourth, Cueto allowed four runs, three earned, and seven hits. He walked one, struck out no one.
"We didn't worry about what he did against us," McCutchen said. "We worried about what we could do against him."
The Pirates jumped on Cueto in a 23-pitch second. Marlon Byrd, who entered the game 7 of 12 in his career against Cueto, roped a 2-1 changeup into the seats in left. Two batters later, Cueto grooved a fastball to Martin, who homered to left-center.
Then, the crowd took over, chanting "CUE-TO, CUE-TO" like he was an opposing hockey goalie.
"I loved it," said Martin, a Canadian and a hockey fan. "It was awesome."
Starling Marte doubled with one out in the fourth, and Reds manager Dusty Baker had seen enough. He replaced Cueto with left-hander Sean Marshall to force Neil Walker to bat right-handed. Walker doubled off the wall in left-center, scoring Marte to make it 4-1.
"That's going to be happening all postseason, so I'm going to be prepared," Walker said.
No Reds reached base until the fourth, when Liriano hit Choo to start the inning. Ryan Ludwick, who went 3 for 4, singled for the Reds' first hit. Liriano got two quick outs, a strikeout against Votto and a popup from Brandon Phillips before Bruce's single to left, scored Choo to cut the Pirates' lead to 3-1.
Todd Frazier's long foul to left came a yard or two from being a three-run homer, but he eventually struck out to end the inning.
"That meant a lot to them," Baker said. "That was a big time in the game where we could have made some hay on the score."
Martin made it 6-1 before Choo homered to right against Tony Watson, Choo's first homer against a left-hander all season. But, by then, the Pirates were ready to head for St. Louis.