Buctober begins: Pirates advance to NLDS

Buctober begins: Pirates advance to NLDS

Buctober begins: Pirates advance to NLDS

PITTSBURGH -- With a foot in the door to Major League Baseball's postseason, the Pirates kicked it in Tuesday night with a rollicking 6-2 win over the Reds in the National League Wild Card Game.

"We're on our way," manager Clint Hurdle said in the middle of a Pittsburgh clubhouse soaked in champagne for the second time in eight days. "We got more baseball to play."

The Bucs are on their way to St. Louis, where the NL Division Series opens Thursday at 5 p.m. ET on TBS at Busch Stadium. The Pirates will return to PNC Park on Sunday for Game 3.

"They're good," Hurdle said. "We're good. We can't wait to play them."

And there is most definitely a home-field advantage in a one-shot Wild Card Game, at least when it is played on the banks of the Allegheny River that runs under the Clemente Bridge.

"It was awesome. Everything we thought it would be," Neil Walker said. "There's no doubt the crowd was a 10th man tonight. We saw how important that home-field advantage was."

All sensible questions, all answered in the affirmative on a night postseason baseball visited Pittsburgh for the first time in 21 years and made itself at home.

With Francisco Liriano setting the immediate tone and second-inning homers by Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin pointing a rattled Johnny Cueto toward ruin, the Pirates fed the frenzy of a PNC Park record sellout crowd of 40,487 that acted as if it had been holding its voice since Sid Bream slid under Mike LaValliere's tag on Oct. 14, 1992.

Martin also provided the final salvo with another solo homer in the seventh off Logan Ondrusek that made it 6-1. Martin became the second Pittsburgh player with a multihomer postseason game. Bob Robertson clocked three in Game 2 of the 1971 NL Championship Series against the Giants.

From the outset, there was a feel-good atmosphere in the Buccos' dugout, as Liriano, true to character, gave an early indication that he was "on." He needed only eight pitches to retire the side in order in the first, 12 more to do likewise in the second and was at only 27 pitches after three perfect innings.

"As soon as he got the first three outs," said his catcher, Martin, "I felt like it was going to be a good day for him."

"From the first inning ... nine straight retired, and he stayed in a good rhythm even when he had to pitch out of a stretch," Hurdle said. "He also maintained his pace. He threw all his pitches and never got into too big of a jam."

Liriano lost his perfection in the fourth, but his command was a keeper. He went seven innings, allowing four hits and a run, with one walk and five strikeouts.

"It's important to give credit to your competition," said Joey Votto, the marquee Cincinnati first baseman who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. "Pittsburgh pitched fantastically."

"[Liriano] was what we've seen all year," said Jay Bruce. "We just couldn't string anything together and couldn't get any big hits."

If ever a game, even an important one, was in danger of being an anticlimax to the pregame, this was it. The black-and-gold-clad crowd greeted the Pirates as if they'd been starved for 21 years for a winner ... oh, wait.

Their roars drowned out the introduction of the Reds, then they took it up a few dozen decibels when the Bucs trotted out to the third-base foul line. By all rights, they should have lost their voices before the first pitch -- but they had plenty left.

"This is the newest, biggest buzz," Hurdle said. "It's still ringing in my ears. When we took the field for the announcements, the opening announcements, they let it rip. The park showed up tonight."

Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker was not particularly impressed.

"If you've ever been to winter ball," Baker said, "I mean, that was quiet compared to the Dominican [Republic] where [Cueto is] from."

Begging to differ, Byrd said, "I've never felt a crowd like that. I played in the Caribbean Series, and I never heard people shouting like that."

Especially at Cueto. The Pittsburgh crowd had no particular beef with Cueto -- its favored adversary on the Reds is second baseman Brandon Phillips -- but being in the middle of the field made him a convenient target. So rhythmic "Cueto! Cueto!" chants broke out in the second, soon after Byrd's leadoff homer jump-started the Bucs.

"We had hoped to take [the crowd] out of it by scoring first," Baker admitted. "When they scored first, the place erupted."

After waiting through 4,367 regular-season at-bats, Byrd went yard on his first career postseason at-bat.

"I was a bit jittery, and that helped me relax a little and focus more," Byrd said.

The teasing of Cueto might have been a transient thing -- had the reverberating roars not prompted him to let the ball plop out of his glove to the ground. That clinched it. The taunts increased -- and when Martin hit Cueto's next pitch into the left-field seats, they grew deafening.

"They were shouting Cueto for a little bit," recounted Martin. "Then he dropped the ball on the mound, and the next pitch, [he] threw a fastball high. I hit a home run."

The crowd had to find a new target after Cueto departed with one out in the fourth, being charged with four runs while allowing seven hits, with a walk -- and no strikeouts.

But before Cueto's exit, Pedro Alvarez's sacrifice fly the next inning to make it 3-0 kept the needle on the shaking.

The house fell silent -- for the first time in two hours -- when Bruce singled to cut it to 3-1 in the fourth. Bruce's opposite-field two-out hit scored Shin-Soo Choo, taking advantage of the Major League leader in being hit by pitches (26) taking another one off his right side.

The Pirates wasted no time reclaiming the momentum in the bottom of that fourth. Back-to-back one-out doubles by Starling Marte -- the hit that chased Cueto -- and Walker off left-hander Sean Marshall made it 4-1.

Baker was so intent on turning the switch-hitting Walker over to his weaker right side, he brought in Marshall, even though Andrew McCutchen was to follow. Walker immediately foiled the strategy with a drive high off the left-center wall for only his second right-handed extra-base hit of the season.

Another run scored later in the inning when Phillips muffed Byrd's potential inning-ending double-play grounder into an RBI forceout.

"We continued to add on, capitalize on mistakes," Hurdle said. "It's the way you want to play in these type of situations. Like in true backyard, with a slow heartbeat."

Choo, the second batter faced in the eighth by Tony Watson, pulled a home run above the Clemente Wall in right. The ball clanged off the hands of a fan leaning over the wall from the first row, prompting a video review, but the home run call stood.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.