Like Tampa Bay the day before, the Pittsburgh Pirates won a do-or-die game with the opposing ace unavailable. Francisco Liriano shut down the Reds, whose Johnny Cueto gave up second-inning home runs with Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin filling in for the injured Mat Latos (4th best pitcher in baseball according to www.valueaddbaseball.com).
By winning their first playoff game since 1992, the Pirates advance to the Divisional Championship against the St. Louis Cardinals that begins on Friday.
Liriano was ranked as the 52nd best pitcher in baseball, well behind Latos but well ahead of 141st ranked Cueto, who had been the ace the past two seasons but missed almost three months of the season before a couple of late starts including one against the 51-111 Houston Astros.
The third run he gave up was unearned, but even that error was on one of the hard smashes he allowed in just 3 1/3 innings of work. In third third inning, Andrew McCutchen beat out a single, Justin Morneau smashed a liner to third, Byrd smashed a hard shot at the shortstop that bounced into center field for an error. Pedro Alvarez then hit a sacrifice fly to center to score McCutchen with what was technically an unearned run.
Actually, the defense saved Cueto from more damage. Martin (who later added a second home run) beat out an infield single, and the inning ended on a spectacular dive into the third base seats by the Reds’ Todd Frazier to keep the score at 3-0 Pirates, who never looked back.
Liriano allowed only five baserunners in seven innings before Tony Watson allowed a homer in the either, and Jason Grilli retired all three Reds to wrap up the win.
After 20 consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates left no doubt in sweeping the Reds in Cincinnati this weekend coming back to Pittsburgh for a win in front of their standing room only crowd.