Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I enjoy wins like this one just as much as, say, a close win in a packed stadium against the Cardinals. The Great American Ballpark was nearly empty tonight, and the Reds were playing Jason Bourgeois and Josh Smith and Kris Negron and Skip Schumaker -- you know, just whoever happened to be around. The Pirates got out to an early lead, and inning after inning drifted by irrelevantly, or at least irrelevantly to the Reds and their fans.
There are two types of teams right now: teams that have something to play for, and teams that don't. There's still something weird about seeing a player as great as Joey Votto have to play out the string with an irrelevant team, even after having seen Andrew McCutchen and Brian Giles and Jason Kendall do it for so many years. In more than half the cities in the NL (Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, Denver, San Diego and Phoenix), fans have either already tuned out or are finding reasons to continue watching that don't involve watching the standings. After years of Septembers spent rooting for those irrelevant teams, an easy, quiet win against one of them is as satisfying as a cool evening after a hot day.
Anyway: Francisco Liriano was fantastic in the Pirates' 7-3 win today, using the slider that so tortured the Reds during the 2013 Wild Card game to befuddle them again tonight. He struck out 10 over six shutout innings, punctuating a great outing by striking out Votto, Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce in the sixth.
Liriano pitched in on offense too, contributing meaningfully with his bat for something like the fourth time in his last seven outings, after appearing to phone in two and a half years of plate appearances before that. He kicked off the Pirates' big third inning with a leadoff ground-rule double on a ball about a foot north of the strike zone, then came home when Gregory Polanco grounded a single to right. (Liriano later singled, giving him his first ever multi-hit game.) Starling Marte then singled and Andrew McCutchen smashed a three-run homer, because how can you make an out and let Francisco Liriano out-hit you? Later in the inning, Jung-Ho Kang doubled, moved to third on a grounder, and came home on a balk.
In the fourth, Francisco Cervelli took a foul ball off his knee and was pretty clearly in pain. The Pirates already had a five-run lead and could easily have replaced Cervelli with either of the other two catchers on their bench, but they for some reason chose not to do so. I assume the Pirates think he's fine, and they're probably right, but I couldn't see any good reason for them to leave him out there.
That was the only blemish in what was a great game for the Bucs, though. They tacked on a run in the eighth, when Kang hit a monster home run, his 14th of the year, off Collin Balester (who was in the Pirates' farm system earlier this year). They added another in the ninth when Polanco doubled and came home on a double by Sean Rodriguez. Meanwhile, Jared Hughes, Antonio Bastardo pitched the seventh and eighth, respectively, with Mark Melancon working the ninth because he hadn't pitched in 10 days. The Reds broke up the shutout with a couple singles and a groundout against Melancon, and then got two more when Arquimedes Caminero replaced him and allowed a triple to Eugenio Suarez. The Bucs' victory was never really in doubt, though.
The Pirates now have 82 wins, clinching their third straight winning season.