After 21 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates are back in the postseason.
The Pirates are assured of at least a National League Wild Card spot after Starling Marte’s ninth-inning home run off Kevin Gregg (2-6) propelled visiting Pittsburgh to a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs.
The win also coincided with the Washington Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals which eliminated Washington from postseason contention and made sure the Pirates are in the postseason for the first time since 1992.
With the victory, Pittsburgh boosted its record to 90-67 to move into a tie for second place in the NL Central with the Cincinnati Reds. The Cardinals’ lead in the division stands at two games with five games remaning in the regular season.
For now, Pittsburgh will relish being in the postseason since Jim Leyland, Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla all sported Pirates black and gold. They have also put an end to their 20-year streak with a losing record — the longest in the four major professional sports, per the Associated Press.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen couldn’t be more relieved.
“Even tough I didn’t lose for the last 20 years, they make you feel like you are. You feel like you lost those 20 years. 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 able to go farther?”
The Pirates led early on, 1-0, on a first-inning home run form Neil Walker but the Cubs managed to even things up in the eighth.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs’ Ryan Sweeney blooped a single which McCutchen scooped up. The Pirates’ center fielder then threw to first baseman Justin Morneau near the pitcher’s mound.
Morneau threw to catcher Russell Martin who made the game-saving play at home plate, tagging Nate Schierholtz for the final out.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, who orchestrated several mid-season moves to bring in key players such as Morneau, outfielder Marlon Byrd and backup catcher John Buck, was all too delighted but knows it’s just the first step.
“To see these guys bounce around, the excitement, the sheer joy in their eyes…At the same time, they know it’s just another step in the process.”