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9th-inning drama leads to Pirates win, playoff berth

Brian Kersey

Geez, I'm not even sure what to lead with here. Ninth-inning dramatics from Starling Marte and the Pirates' defense rescued a great start by Charlie Morton and gave the Pirates a 2-1 win over the Cubs. The Nationals lost to the Cardinals, which means that the Pirates clinched their first playoff berth since 1992. And the Reds also won, which means they're headed for the playoffs as well, and the Bucs and Reds are still tied for the top Wild Card spot. How's that?

Charlie Morton and Jeff Samardzija dominated the first seven innings. Morton struck out five, walked one and allowed no runs. Meanwhile, the Pirates got their only run off Samardzija in the first, when Neil Walker hit an opposite-field solo shot.

The Bucs' 1-0 lead held until the eighth, when whatever the ground-ball-variance monster crawled out from underneath Mark Melancon's bed yet again. Melancon allowed a line-drive single to Brian Bogusevic, who moved up on a groundout and a wild pitch. Then Donnie Murphy dribbled a ground ball that made it through the hole between shortstop and third, and the Cubs tied it 1-1.

It seems like the Pirates have had a miserable time when teams make these sorts of comebacks against them recently, and I feared the worst, even though it's just the Cubs. But after Kevin Gregg struck out the first two hitters he faced in the ninth, he hung a breaking ball to Starling Marte, who pounded it over the wall in left to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead.

In a smart bit of bullpen management by Clint Hurdle, Tony Watson came on to face lefty Anthony Rizzo in the ninth, even though it was a save situation. (Or, well, maybe Jason Grilli just didn't have enough time to warm up.) Watson got Rizzo to ground out, and then he gave way to Grilli ... who promptly walked Dioner Navarro. Nate Schierholtz grounded into a force out, as the Pirates got the lead runner at second. And then, with two outs, Ryan Sweeney singled to right center. Marlon Byrd reached down to catch the ball on the bounce, and missed it. Andrew McCutchen chucked the ball toward the infield with Schierholtz charging around the bases. Justin Morneau ran toward the ball and made the throw to the plate, just in time to beat Schierholtz. Game over. I mean, wow, Pirates.

So there you have it. The Pirates have their 90th win of the season, and they're going to the playoffs. And whatever we might think about Justin Morneau, he came up huge defensively in this game, and he earned a place in Pirates history today. And so did Starling Marte.