Closing in on their first playoff appearance in 21 years and trying to make it take place at home, the visiting Pirates will try to beat the Cubs for the 11th time in 17 meetings Monday night.
Pittsburgh (89-67) failed to take control of the race for home-field advantage in a potential wild-card playoff matchup with Cincinnati on Sunday, losing 11-3 at home to the Reds. That left the teams dead even."We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole early and they never let up, kept their foot on the gas pedal," said second baseman Neil Walker , who hit his 13th home run. "We have to continue to play good baseball and things will go our way."
The Pirates have lost five of seven, but they're still close to their first playoff spot since 1992. Pittsburgh also has an outside chance to win the NL Central, as it's close behind St. Louis.
The Pirates will try to take advantage of the timely matchup with the last-place Cubs (65-91) before wrapping up the season with three games in Cincinnati.
They'll give the ball to Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.35 ERA), who was outstanding in his last start before the bullpen blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning in a 3-2 loss to San Diego on Wednesday.
The right-hander matched a career high with nine strikeouts while allowing one run and two hits over eight innings. He's gone 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA in his last nine starts.
He'll try to continue the strong work of Pittsburgh starters against Chicago this season, as they've posted a 2.21 ERA to help the Pirates take 10 of 16 meetings. Morton, however, is 1-3 with a 7.52 ERA in four career starts at Wrigley Field.
Chicago's Brian Bogusevic hit the only home run Morton has allowed in his last 67 innings in a 5-4 win at Pittsburgh on Sept. 13. Bogusevic is 5 for 8 all-time in their matchups.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum thinks series like this one can help his club for the future.
"That's the vision you have, wanting to be in that position and wanting to get into September and meaningful games and go through the playoff atmosphere in September," he told the team's official website. "The playoffs are the playoffs, but a lot of these teams, especially the Pirates and the Cardinals, they've been playing playoff games, basically, fighting for the division and fighting for home-field advantage, all those things."
Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.42), among the top 10 in the major leagues with 203 strikeouts, showed signs of improvement in his last start Tuesday. He gave up three runs over seven innings while striking out eight in a 4-3 loss at Milwaukee, not getting a decision.
The right-hander had posted an 8.35 ERA in his previous three starts.
Samardzija hasn't had much success at home, going 2-4 with a 5.76 ERA in his last 11 starts there. He's given up nine runs and 17 hits over 12 innings while dropping both home starts against the Pirates this season.
Andrew McCutchen is 5 for 12 with three doubles against Samardzija. The NL MVP candidate has batted .395 in his last 12 games versus Chicago, but he's hitless in his last 13 at-bats overall.
The Cubs, who have split six meetings with Pittsburgh at Wrigley, have dropped nine of 12 overall.
|August 27, 2013||Kyle McPherson||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|August 19, 2013||Starling Marte||15-Day DL||Right hand contusion|
|August 19, 2013||Starling Marte||15-Day DL||Right hand contusion|
|August 11, 2013||Starling Marte||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hand|
|July 28, 2013||Travis Snider||15-Day DL||Left big toe discomfort|
|July 28, 2013||Michael McKenry||60-Day DL||Left knee surgery - out for season|
|September 19, 2013||Welington Castillo||Day-to-Day||Knee|
|August 08, 2013||Matt Guerrier||60-Day DL||Right elbow soreness|
|August 08, 2013||Thomas Neal||60-Day DL||Dislocated right shoulder|
|August 07, 2013||Thomas Neal||Day-to-Day||Dislocated right shoulder|
|August 07, 2013||Dioner Navarro||Day-to-Day||Right ankle contusion|
|August 03, 2013||Luis Valbuena||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
CHICAGO (AP) -- The long wait is over, Pittsburgh. Your Pirates are finally headed back to the postseason.
After a 21-year absence, the Pirates clinched 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.
Now, they can turn their attention toward bigger goals, the kind that seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream through all those losing seasons.
"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?"'
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.
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 bubbly and beer and sparkling 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." They 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 then 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 right fielder Marlon Byrd failed in trying to scoop up the ball and threw to first baseman Justin Morneau , positioned just in front of the pitcher's mound. Morneau caught the throw on one hop and made the relay to catcher Russell Martin , who applied the tag on Nate Schierholtz trying to score from first base.
Still on his knees, Martin held the ball over his head in jubilation. Then, he was embraced by closer Jason Grilli before heaving the ball toward deep left field as the Pirates celebrated near the mound. Grilli escaped with his 32nd save in 34 chances.
"Twenty-one years since we popped Champagne in a Pirates clubhouse - and we're acting like it's been a long time," Hurdle said. "The hard work, the fun. I'm just proud of each and every man in here, the fans they represent, ownership, general manager, president ... the scouts, players. This has been a group effort for a long time."
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.
The Cubs tied it in the eighth off Mark Melancon (3-2).
Marte's 12th homer set off loud boos for Gregg (2-6), who was almost released last week after going on a rant to reporters when he thought he had lost the closer's job to Pedro Strop .
Walker homered against Jeff Samardzija in the first to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead, and Charlie Morton pitched three-hit ball over seven scoreless innings before the Cubs tied it against Melancon.
Brian Bogusevic led off the eighth with a single, his second hit, and moved up on a groundout by Darwin Barney . Then, after a wild pitch, he scored the tying run on a single by pinch-hitter Donnie Murphy .
That spoiled a terrific start for Morton, who struck out five and walked one.
Samardzija was almost as good, allowing one run and five hits over six innings. He struck out seven and walked four after going 0-1 with a 7.11 ERA in his previous four starts.
He pitched seven solid innings against Milwaukee last week but got into a disagreement with third base coach David Bell over defensive positioning in the dugout.
Samardzija's only blemish in this one came when Walker drove a 1-1 pitch out to left-center with one out in the first.
With the long ball, Walker matched a career high of 14 set last season. He has four homers in the past five games.
Samardzija settled down after that but got little support as the Cubs lost for the 10th time in 13 games. It was also the second straight day an opponent celebrated at Wrigley Field.
Atlanta clinched the NL East on Sunday, and this time, it was the Pirates' turn to party.
"That's what we need to do," Samardzija said. "I think we're getting there, but we need to get some things ironed out."
The Pirates finally have it figured out. Now, they're playoff-bound.
NOTES: Hurdle said he hasn't set his rotation for the final series against Cincinnati, beyond A.J. Burnett starting on Friday. He would not say if struggling All-Star Jeff Locke will make his scheduled start on Saturday. The left-hander got roughed up by the Reds in Sunday's loss and is 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA since the All-Star break. "We are just having those conversations," Hurdle said when asked about Locke's status. ... Martin was in the Pirates' lineup after leaving Sunday's game with soreness in his left knee, an issue he's been dealing with since late July. Martin said he was feeling better and that the Pirates would "have to fight to try to get me out of the lineup." ... RHP Gerrit Cole (9-7, 3.23 ERA) starts Tuesday for Pittsburgh, with LHP Chris Rusin (2-5, 3.52) going for Chicago.