Pirates pillage Reds, have date with Cardinals
Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin is mobbed by teammates after defeating the Cincinnati Reds in their National League wild card game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Oct. 1, 2013. (CHARLES LeCLAIRE/USA Today)
Buc-kle up baby!
After a 21-year absence from postseason play — they last were in the playoffs in 1992 — the Pittsburgh Pirates moved on to a division round matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday night with a convincing 6-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Get ready for a wild ride.
It was pure bedlam at beautiful PNC Park and the Pirates rode an emotional wave to victory. It was a right and just result and it would have been cruel to see them miss for 21 years and then hand them a one-and-done.
The Reds didn’t offer much in the way of opposition. They were held to four hits by Bucs starter Francisco Liriano over his seven innings and were sloppy in the field.
Toronto’s Russell Martin belted two solo home runs in a three-hit game.
Martin has built a reputation of embracing the big moment and this day he didn’t disappoint.
“I do, this is what you dream of when you’re a kid, it’s why you play the game,” Martin said in the chaos of the Pirates clubhouse where he was constantly being doused with champagne by his teammates. “It’s not for a stat or anything it’s just to play to win and play in front of such an awesome crowd tonight. They were unbelievable. These fans have waited a long time for this and it’s just nice to get ’em a win and keep going further in the playoffs.”
It was a special night for Martin, who was making his sixth career appearance in the postseason.
“It’s unbelievable,” he enthused. “The group of guys that are in this clubhouse, it’s a tight group. A lot of guys have been here for a while and it’s just a tremendous group of guys.”
His answer then got cut short with another dousing of champagne.
It was Martin’s first season with the Bucs following two seasons with the Yankees.
“I knew that coming in I was going to have to lead a group of young pitchers and do whatever I could to help them our and they’ve grown up quickly,” he said. “The talent that’s on this team is amazing and reaching that potential and producing on the field is the story of what they’ve done.
“Everybody is enjoying it right now and it’s definitely a good feeling but we’ve got a lot of work to do. Cincinnati (he meant St. Louis) is going to be tough.”
Besides being the offensive hero, Martin was behind the plate for Liriano, and the two combined to hold the Reds to one run and four hits over the opening seven innings.
“He was amazing,” Martin said of the right-hander. “You get in this atmosphere and the hitters are going to be over-aggressive and hunting fastballs and he has the ability to make his changeup and his slider look like fastballs and it worked for us. We used their aggressiveness against them by throwing off-speed pitches early.
“For the most part he was just dominating down in the zone and mixing his pitches well. He was fantastic.”
It could have been a rout. The Pirates had pressure and base-runners every inning and left 10 runners on base.
Marlon Byrd, acquired from the New York Mets on Aug. 27, launched the Pirates in front when he led off the second inning by drilling a Johnny Cueto fastball into the seats in left. The PNC crowd went nuts.
After a deep fly to centre by Pedro Alvarez, Martin got all of another Cueto fastball and nailed it to deep left centre giving the Pirates a 2-0 lead.
In the third, the Bucs applied more pressure and added a run when a single and error by shortstop Zack Cozart put runners on the corners. Alvarez then came through with a RBI sac fly to centre.
After the Reds came up with a run in the fourth, the Bucs put it away with a two-run fourth to open a 5-1 lead.
Martin added his second bomb leading off the seventh to become just the second Pittsburgh player in their history to have a multi-homer game in the post-season.
Cueto wasn’t the Reds’ first choice to start, but when Mat Latos was discovered to have a bone chip in his elbow on the weekend, manager Dusty Baker decided to give Cueto the ball even though he was on the disabled list three separate times with a strained lat.
His decision obviously backfired.
Cueto came into the game with an 8-2 record at PNC but that didn’t matter a whit this night and after 3.1 innings, he was gone.
For the Reds it was another disappointing ending to a successful regular season.
“It hurts to go home,” Baker said before the game. “It hurts to lose. I really can’t imagine losing and going home now.”
But once again, they lost and for the Reds the only thing left is a heartbreaking trip back to Cincinnati.
For the Pirates, their season isn’t over, not by a long shot. Time to party on.
FANS BACK IN BLACK FOR BUCS
Back in black.
That was the theme of the raucous and crazed PNC Park crowd last night that rocked the stadium and were the 10th man for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ night of triumph.
A record throng of 40,487 strong, they never let up and the Pittsburgh players rode their energy to victory.
“I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere,” Toronto’s Russell Martin, the hitting hero with two home runs, said. “To have the opportunity to play in front of a crowd like that was amazing. We’ve got more gifts to go over here so hopefully they can keep that same energy.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle saluted the fans for what they brought to the game.
“Did you feel it out there tonight?” he asked. “It was incredible, it was awesome. They made a difference from the time we took the field. You can feel it, you can hear it.
“That energy in this ball park, when we first went out our guys were looking around feeling it. As every man went down the line it was like: ‘All right, let’s go play.’
The crowd was so noisy it seemed to unnerve Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto.
“I’ve never seen a crowd actually get to the pitcher where he actually drops the ball (as Cueto did in the second inning just before Martin’s first home run),” Martin said. “The next pitch, I don’t know, he made a mistake with the next pitch.”