A.J. Burnett was a monster tonight. He went eight innings, gave up five hits and only walked one hitter. A big difference tonight was that he didn't let a single leadoff hitter reach base. After the Reds put up runs in the first three innings of all three games last week at PNC Park it was important for things to get off to a good start and Burnett made that happen every single inning. Burnett can be up and down and when he is good he can dominate a game. Tonight he was dominant exactly when the Pirates needed him to be. This was a big time start from a big time pitcher.
The offense wasn't overly great but when they needed a big hit they got it. Marlon Byrd got the party started in the third inning as Reds starter Homer Bailey loaded the bases without the Pirates even getting a hit. The first hit they did get that inning was a single from Byrd that score Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen.
Pedro Alvarez really put the game away in the sixth inning. With the Pirates up 2-1 Byrd doubled off the top of the wall in dead center that was literally an inch away from being a home run. Alvarez crushed ball 443 feet off the batters eye. It was a monster shot and took the life out of GABP. It was a great sound.
Alvarez had two hits on the night and Byrd had three. They had five of the six hits and it was enough tonight. Moreover the Pirates took advantage of Bailey having zero control and took five walks and reached two more times on hit pitches. The Pirates took what the Reds gave them and made them pay with some hits from the middle of the order guys. Exactly what they needed to do.
While Alvarez hasn't been good recently something that had me a little surprised was when I looked over his last 30 days. Sure, he is only hitting 182/.248/.313 (entering tonight) during that time span but what caught me off guard is that he is only striking out 22% of his plate appearances. To be honest, and this is just a complete guess, I am not sure if Alvarez has ever gone a stretch with that low of a strikeout rate. His LD/FB/GB are off a little but his BABIP over those 30 days is only .216 which is unsustainably low when his career BABIP is .300. I am not sure this is something that Alvarez can keep up but just something to note. If he can get hot this would be a perfect time for it and it could be enough to carry the Pirates through some playoff games.
I don't really think that it is a must that the Pirates get home field advantage for the Wild Card game because of how close this series has been this year, but man it would be nice. I think the Pirates have a better chance at winning at home but in a one game "series" anything can happen and I can see the Pirates winning in either ballpark. What came up in my Twitter feed earlier really made me sit back and think about it though when Lance McAlister, a Reds radio talk show host, said this:
what's at stake is simply this: Do you want the #Reds playing before a PNC sellout crowd Tuesday in city w/ 1st playoff game since 1992?— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) September 27, 2013
That gives you goosebumps. The Pirates need to win one of the next two games to play at PNC Park in a playoff game. Just thinking about the atmosphere and electricity there gives me goosebumps. Hopefully Charlie Morton and company can take care of this tomorrow and make Sunday's game meaningless.