EditorsNote: updating with Pirates clinching top wild card, still one game back of Cards
Pirates win, clinch top wild card spot
CINCINNATI — Travis Snider hit a ball so hard in the eighth inning on Friday night that it took on a life of its own.
“Sometimes when you hit the ball on the screws it gives that knuckleball effect,” the Pirates right fielder said. “You can see the outfielder moving side to side. It’s tough.”
Snider sympathized with Jay Bruce, but made no apologies after his scalding line drive sailed past the Cincinnati Reds right fielder for an RBI double, putting Pittsburgh ahead to stay in a 3-1 victory in the opener of a three-game series at Great American Ball Park.
First baseman Gaby Sanchez homered for Pittsburgh (88-72), which still trails the St. Louis Cardinals by one game in the National League Central after the Cardinals beat Arizona Friday.
However, the Pirates clinched home-field advantage for the wild-card game against the San Francisco Giants if the Pirates do not pass the Cardinals. The Pirates’ victory and the Giants’ loss to San Diego gave the Pirates a two-game lead over San Francisco with two games left. The Giants can do no better than tie the Pirates, and Pittsburgh owns the tie-breaker with a 4-2 season record against the Giants. As a result, if the Giants and Pirates finish tied for the wild-card spot, Pittsburgh would still host the wild-card game.
“For us it’s all about winning ballgames,” Snider said. “We’ve got (game number) 161 tomorrow. That’s what we’re focused on.”
The Pirates also increased their lead to 1 1/2 games over San Francisco Giants for the first NL wild card spot, which would earn them home-field advantage. That lead will either increase of decrease by a half-game depending on the result of the Giants’ game against San Diego later Friday night. Pittsburgh owns the tie-breaker with a 4-2 season record against the Giants, so if the Giants and Pirates finish tied for the wild-card spot, Pittsburgh would host the wild-card game.
“We can’t control any of that, aside from staying focused on winning,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
Pittsburgh staged a two-out rally against right-hander Pedro Villarreal (0-2) in the eighth inning on Friday.
Third baseman Josh Harrison extended his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games with a single, then scored from first when Snider’s liner skipped past Bruce in right and rolled to the wall for a double, putting Pittsburgh ahead 2-1.
“That ball moved a couple different ways,” said Hurdle. “That’s a very good right fielder, he went to the spot where he expected the ball to be. It definitely was hit hard.”
Said Bruce: “I just whiffed. He hit it hard and it’s not the first ball that knuckled, but as I planted to redirect, I slipped.”
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen followed with a double, scoring pinch runner Gregory Polanco to make the score 3-1.
Pittsburgh starter Vance Worley allowed nine hits but just one run and did not walk a batter in 6 1/3 innings.
“He was able to navigate around nine hits, that’s a real nice job,” Hurdle said.
Mark Melancon earned his 33rd save. Jared Hughes (7-5) got the victory.
Reds starter Mike Leake allowed one run on just three hits in seven innings with two walks and eight strikeouts for Cincinnati (74-86), which is 10-7 against the Pirates this season.
“Leake did a pretty good job keeping the ball down, he made it tough for us,” said McCutchen, who went 1-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a second-inning single, one of only two hits off Leake through four innings.
Sanchez broke the scoreless tie with his seventh home run leading off the fifth inning. His first homer since Aug. 14 came on Leake’s first offering and put Pittsburgh ahead 1-0.
Leake, whose 68 career hits are the most by any major league pitcher since 2010, doubled and scored on third baseman Kris Negron’s single to tie the score 1-1 in the fifth.
NOTES: Pirates 1B Ike Davis was out of the lineup on Friday because of flu-like symptoms. Gaby Sanchez started at first base. ... Pirates LF Starling Marte’s second-inning single extended his hitting streak to 11 games. ... Pedro Alvarez, who was diagnosed Sept. 11 with a stress fracture in a foot, has not resumed baseball activity. The Pirates third baseman will be evaluated again Tuesday. ... Reds CF Billy Hamilton missed his second straight start with a mild concussion suffered when he crashed into the wall making a catch Wednesday night. ... Pirates utility man Josh Harrison, a Cincinnati native, entered Friday’s game with a 13-game hitting streak and got a hit Friday to extend it to 14. ... The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Friday that Reds general manager Walt Jocketty agreed to a multiyear contract extension. Jocketty’s three-year deal was to expire at the end of this year.