Tue., 12:15 am: Pirates clinch 1st playoff berth in 21 years
CHICAGO (AP) – The Pittsburgh Pirates are headed to the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, clinching at least a National League wild card Monday night when they beat the Chicago Cubs 2-1 and the Washington Nationals lost to St. Louis.
It will be Pittsburgh’s first trip to the postseason since Barry Bonds, Jim Leyland and Co. won three straight NL East titles from 1990-92. Bonds then left for San Francisco as a free agent, and the small-budget Pirates piled up 20 consecutive losing records – the longest streak in the four major professional sports.
“Even though I didn’t lose for the last 20 years, they make you feel like you are. You feel like you lost those 20 years,” Andrew McCutchen said. “That’s all you hear. You hear it every single day – ‘When’s it going to change? You think this is the year?’ You get sick and tired of hearing that. It’s awesome that there won’t be any questions anymore. The question is are we going to be able to go farther.”
Starling Marte hit a tiebreaking homer in the ninth inning at Wrigley Field, and the Pirates threw out a runner at the plate for the final out.
The Pirates sprayed each other with champagne and beer and sparking cider in the visitors’ clubhouse once St. Louis’ 4-3 win over the Nationals became final.
The Cincinnati Reds also clinched at least a wild-card berth, when they beat the New York Mets 3-2 in 10 innings. The Pirates and Reds, both 90-67, trail St. Louis by two games in the NL Central with five to go.
Pittsburgh players sang Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Players chanted “MVP! MVP!” while dousing McCutchen. They took pictures and manager Clint Hurdle had them gather for a group photo in the middle of the cramped visitors’ clubhouse.
“The people of Pittsburgh have been waiting a long time,” said Neil Walker, who homered.
The Pirates snapped a 1-all tie when Marte sent a drive off Kevin Gregg (2-6) with two outs in the ninth into the left field bleachers.
In a fitting coincidence, they preserved the victory on the final out in a play at the plate.
McCutchen, the center fielder, picked up Ryan Sweeney’s bloop single after the ball hit off right fielder Marlon Byrd’s glove and threw to first baseman Justin Morneau, positioned just in front of home plate. Morneau made the relay to catcher Russell Martin, who applied the tag on Nate Schierholtz. Schierholtz had tried to score from first base.
Still on his knees, Martin held the ball over his head in jubilation.
The Pirates’ last trip to the playoffs ended with Atlanta’s Sid Bream sliding home with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1992 NL championship series.