The Pirates came back from a 4-0 deficit and Starling Marte hit a walk-off homer in the 12th as the Bucs beat the Reds 6-4 and reduced their magic number for home-field advantage in the Wild Card game to one.
The win sent the Bucs and Reds heading even further in opposite directions -- the Pirates now have 97 wins this season, while the Reds now haven't won since September 19 and are just a half-game better than the Phillies, who have the worst record in baseball.
The evening began inauspiciously. Francisco Liriano coughed up a two-run homer to Eugenio Suarez in the second. The inning ended in inspiring fashion as Gregory Polanco recorded one of his specialty 9-3 putouts against pitcher Keyvius Sampson. In the third, though, Liriano gave up a series of hits that ended with Jay Bruce's RBI double and Suarez's RBI single. The following inning, there was a ridiculous throwing error by Pedro Alvarez, which I took as a sign that this wasn't going to be the Bucs' day. There was an error by Francisco Cervelli in there, too.
In the bottom of the inning, though, Andrew McCutchen homered on a Sampson fastball, cutting the Reds' lead to 4-1. Two frames later, the Pirates came on in a big way. Marte and McCutchen singled, and Sampson walked Aramis Ramirez to load the bases with no outs. Tony Cingrani then walked Michael Morse to bring in a run, and Alvarez brought home another with a force out. After Cervelli struck out, Jordy Mercer tied the game with a line-drive single.
That began a long series of innings (extending into extras) in which the Pirates failed to score, sometimes in frustrating fashion -- Bucs leadoff hitters reached base three times between the seventh and the 11th, but got stranded at third once and twice got erased on double plays. Of course, the only reason all this frustration was possible was that the Pirates' bullpen was killing it, as Jared Hughes, Joakim Soria, Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, Antonio Bastardo and Arquimedes Caminero pitched seven scoreless innings to keep the Bucs in the game.
In the 11th, the Reds brought in former Pirates minor leaguer Collin Balester to pitch, a situation that seemed like a golden opportunity -- Balester entered this evening having given up 11 walks and 11 runs in 14.1 innings this season. The Bucs couldn't get to him that inning, but they finally did in the 12th. Polanco walked, and then Marte sent a Balester fastball flying out to right to give the Bucs a walk-off victory. The fans -- by then few in number and audibly inebriated -- left happy and are hopefully still sobering up. Tomorrow, the Pirates can set their sights on ensuring the Wild Card game is in Pittsburgh.