This was the best. Check that, this was the best ever. I was seven years old when the Pirates last were in the playoffs. As I talked about before the game there is only so much you can remember at that time but ever since then it has been nothing but bad things and sadness for the Pirates. It hurt to talk about the Pirates. I mean look at the 2008-10 season just for a small sample of this. I mean, holy hell that was some awful baseball. Times like this are what we have been waiting for. This is what it is all about and it is absolutely awesome.
The Pirates were in control of this game from the start. The Reds had no answer for Francisco Liriano and they got nothing from starter Johnny Cueto. Everything that could go right for the Pirates did and thanks to Liriano and the bats it didn't matter what the Reds did because it wasn't going to matter.
The Pirates got it started in the second inning when Marlon Byrd went deep and then Russell Martin went deep a few batters later. The place was going absolutely crazy and it was awesome. Pedro Alvarez, the only Pirates starter not to have a hit (including Liriano) had a sacrifice fly that turned out to be the winner.
The Pirates scored a pair more in the fourth thanks to Neil Walker and a Byrd fielders choice groundout and then Marin went deeeeeeeep in the seventh inning and the ballgame was over at that point. The Reds added a run in the eighth but it was all just mathematics at that point.
Liriano was just lights out. It was much talked about before the game on how good he was against left handed hitters and how that was going to play against Reds who are carried by three really top notch left handed hitters and it played out just as you thought it would. Liriano made the left handed pop look like little leaguers as Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce combined to go 2-for-11 with five strikeouts. His slider was filthy and the lefties, and the Reds themselves, really had no idea what was going on. At the end of the day he went seven innings giving up one run on four hits, one walk, and striking out five. Liriano had 17 swing and miss pitches tonight. That is ridiculous. The Pirates needed a big start from their staff ace and they got exactly that.
Man, the bats came up in a big way. Martin has been in a slump for about the last month or so and just hasn't looked overly good at the plate. Tonight he took some mistakes over the plate and absolutely crushed them. He hit two no-doubt home runs and while a lot of the talk (appropriately so) about his defense and what he means to the pitching staff but the offense was massively huge tonight. Three hits in four at bats.
Byrd in the same sense just crushed it. He only had one hit on the night but he was squaring up pitches all night and drove in a pair of runs. What continues to amaze me is that the Reds did not make a claim on him at the waiver deadline. The Pirates were behind the Reds (and Cardinals) and neither team made a claim on Byrd and let him fall to the Pirates. I don't care what the reason was, it was a huge mistake and at least played a small part in the Pirates drive to get home field advantage in the Wild Card game and in the win tonight. Byrd has been huge for the Pirates and has been a true power bat in the middle of the lineup. Tonight he did what the Pirates brought him in for.
Andrew McCutchen, man. This dude is just the best player in the National League and will be the MVP. All he did tonight was reach base his first four plate appearances and ended the night going 2-for-3 with a pair of walks (one intentional) and scored a run. The Reds tried to pitch around him and he got on base and put pressure on them. He singled through the left side for his second hit on a 96 mph fastball that was off the inside corner and was able to get around it with ease. His hands are so fast that it really isn't even fair. He has struggled a bit recently but looked worlds better tonight.
Starling Marte and Neil Walker hit one and two in the lineup and both had a pair of hits. Six combined hits between the 1-3 hitters tonight. That will get things done.
Really what probably should have been mentioned first was the atmosphere at PNC Park. I knew it was going to be amped up at the beginning of the game but they were electric all night. Maybe the highlight of the night came in the second inning when Cueto gave up the home run to Bryd and the fans started the sing-song chant of Cueto's last name and after he got Alvarez out he came up against Martin. The fans were probably at their loudest point and during the sing-song chant Cueto was standing on the rubber and he was fumbling with the ball and just dropped it. The crowd noticed and it was all over there. Cueto was just stunned and the next pitch was a middle-middle 95 mph fastball that Martin deposited to left field.
PNC Park was just unreal good tonight. You could just feel the years of struggled melting away. This was 21 years of non-playoffs and losing baseball frustration being taken out on the Reds. The fans heard the talk from the players that they wanted it to be a blackout and they made it happen. It looked really badass and the entire game they were all over everything. It seemed like every strike call was being cheered when the Pirates were playing defense and when they were on offense it was like every hit was a walk-off. Sometimes it is hard to tell on TV what the crowd is really like but the over 40,000 there at PNC Park tonight made it known they were there to cheer their asses off. I am not sure how much "home field advantage" plays into the psyche of opposing players and teams but even if it plays zero part in a teams win then tonight was about as close as it got to counting. It was amazing and it was what this Pirates team deserved.
The Pirates now move on to the best of five series against the top seed in the National League. That team just happens to be the St. Louis Cardinals who the Pirates beat in the season series. Before the game tonight I had told a few people that I thought the Pirates matched up a lot better against the Cardinals than the Reds, especially with Allen Craig out of the lineup. It should be a pretty fun series to watch and despite the game being day games on Thursday (5 p.m.) and Friday (1 p.m.) I am not going to miss them for anything. This is playoff baseball, now that I am used to it after a game I think I can properly manage my life. Even if I can't, who cares? Not me.
As I said before this game took a brunt of the frustration for the awfulness of Pirates baseball and it was exactly what everyone involved needed. I have no idea how I am going to sleep tonight but I am going to try. This really is just the best. Soak it all in.