Road to the World Series: Oct. 2, 2013
Bucs make loud return to postseason play; AL Wild Card now up for grabs
PNC Park was back in black, and the Reds were blue.
Yes, the first day of October -- or, as it was Tuesday, Buctober -- brought more colorful playoff baseball history to a city that has had plenty of it -- just not in the past, well, 21 years, to be exact.
Pittsburgh forged a sellout, its team earned a convincing victory and Tuesday night's National League Wild Card Game opened the 2013 Major League Baseball postseason with a resounding boom on the decibel scale.
The Pirates laid the first slabs of pavement for the Road to the World Series with a 6-2 win over Cincinnati that will now lead Pittsburgh to the home field of another familiar NL Central opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals, for the NL Division Series that begins Thursday at 5 p.m. ET on TBS.
"You talk about feeling good all over," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Our ballpark showed up, our fanbase showed up, our city showed up. ... Whereas the 40,000 were jammed in here, how many do you think were watching, hanging on every pitch? It never stopped.
"There were very few times when somebody wasn't up yelling. Our guys fed off of it from the beginning, when we just got the announcements. It was tremendous energy. I've been in a lot of great venues, played in some important games, but that spark from our fanbase … I don't know if I've ever felt that before."
Pittsburgh can celebrate, for at least one night, a hugely successful return to playoff ball for the first time since 1992, and it seemed that way from the moment the all-black-clad Bucco backers started filing into and packing PNC.
The Pirates needed a big effort from their chosen do-or-die starter, Francisco Liriano, and the veteran left-hander delivered while Reds starter Johnny Cueto never got into a rhythm and was pelted around the yard by an eager Pittsburgh offense.
"We were mentally prepared," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It's just that … I don't care how mentally prepared you are with those balls up in the heart of the plate or high-percentage pitches to hit out of the ballpark. They got every hit imaginable."
Catcher Russell Martin got a few of those hits. He led the way for the Pirates with two home runs; 36-year-old Marlon Byrd added a solo shot of his own in the first postseason at-bat of his career; and the Reds were mostly kept in check offensively.
It just was not the Reds' night.
Todd Frazier missed what would have been a game-tying and possibly momentum-altering home run by mere feet while trailing, 3-1, in the fourth inning, and he struck out to end the threat. Not much else happened for the Reds' bats, and now they will have the winter to think about what might have been.
Thank you to all our Reds fans for your support this season!- Reds (@Reds) October 2, 2013
So now the Pirates move on, and they will get a chance to set up for a five-game series. They will have to do it without the benefit of home-field advantage, but it is something to which they are looking forward.
Meanwhile, the Road to the Postseason makes another huge stop Wednesday night. It will take place a few hours to the northwest of the Steel City and in another sold-out ballpark.
Progressive Field in Cleveland will be the stage for the American League Wild Card Game at 8 p.m. ET (airing on TBS), with the hometown Indians gunning for their 11th consecutive win against a Tampa Bay Rays team that had to win a Game No. 163 tiebreaker in Texas on Monday just to get there.
It will be rookie right-hander Danny Salazar for the Tribe against young righty Alex Cobb for the Rays. It will mean a trip to Boston to take on the Red Sox in the AL Division Series for the winner, and another conclusion to a good season for the loser.
For Cleveland manager Terry Francona and Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon, there is nothing but respect for both teams and the seasons they have had to make it to Wednesday's showdown.
But that does not mean they do not want to beat the other team very badly.
Even though the Indians rank 21st in Major League Baseball with a $77.8 million payroll and the Rays rank 28th at $57.9 million, here they are, ready to play for a trip to Fenway Park.
"Our goal on an annual basis is to play the last game of the year and win it," Maddon said. "You're going to hear that from me every year."
The next step toward that goal is Wednesday, and for now, at least, only Wednesday.
"This is one game," Francona said. "You can either embrace it, or you can moan about it. I would rather embrace it and hopefully win."
Wednesday's AL Wild Card Game
Rays (Cobb, 11-3) at Indians (Salazar, 2-3), 8 p.m. ET Preview >
2013 MLB POSTSEASON MATCHUPS
Division Series: Wild Card at Red Sox | Tigers at A's
Division Series: Pirates at Cardinals | Dodgers at Braves
2013 postseason schedule
NL Division Series begins: Thursday
AL Division Series begins: Friday
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 11
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 12
World Series begins: Oct. 23