(SportsNetwork.com) - Postseason baseball returns to the Steel City for the
first time in 21 years on Tuesday when the Pittsburgh Pirates host the
Cincinnati Reds in the National League wild card game at PNC Park.
There have been over 600 playoff games contested in Major League Baseball
Pirates lost to the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the 1992 NL Championship
Series. None of those games, though, have included the Pirates, who are back
in the postseason for the first time since their last winning season way back
This will be the first playoff game in Pittsburgh since Game 5 of that 1992
"That's a long wait," said Pirates second baseman Neil Walker. "Our focus is
winning games and series, and we play for each other more than anything else.
But we also play for the city and the fans.
After teasing its fans with two straight second half collapses, Pittsburgh put
it all together this season behind NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and ended
the year, 94-68.
The Pirates spent a good deal of time atop the NL Central and were 26 games
above .500 on Aug. 8. However, they were a .500 team in 48 games after that,
but won five of six to close the campaign.
In fact the Pirates cemented their season by sweeping the Reds over the
weekend to secure homefield advantage for the wild card game, outscoring their
NL Central foes, 16-6 in the process.
"It'll be electric," Bucs outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "This city, its sports
fans ... they love their sports. They've had their Steelers and their
Penguins, and have been waiting on their Pirates. And here we come.
"We wanted to make sure we're able to bring it back to Pittsburgh. One game.
Now it's time to get it done."
Pittsburgh had five All-Stars at this year's Midsummer Classic, but none
shined brighter than McCutchen, who continued to state his case as one of the
best young players in the game.
McCutchen hit .317 with 21 home runs, 84 RBI, 27 stolen bases, a .404 on-base
percentage and .508 slugging percentage in 157 games. He became just the
fourth major league center fielder since 1947 to have consecutive seasons of
hitting .300 with a .400 slugging percentage and .500 on-base-plus-slugging
percentage, joining Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr.
In addition to the great McCutchen, a big reason behind the Pirates' success
was the man that will be taking the ball on Tuesday, left-hander Francisco
Signed as a free agent this winter, Liriano missed the first month of the
season recovering from a broken arm, but showed no ill effects of the injury
upon his return and ended the year, 16-8, while pitching to a 3.02 ERA.
Liriano, the Pirates' first postseason starter since Doug Drabek, struggled
against the Reds, going 0-3 with a 3.70 ERA against them in four starts.
However, the Dominican hurler was terrific at PNC Park, where he has just one
loss in 11 starts (8-1) with a sparkling 1.49 ERA.
Pittsburgh, as a team, was 50-31 in front of its fans this season.
While the Pirates are back in the postseason for the first time in over two
decades, Cincinnati is making its third appearance in four years after going
Like Pittsburgh, the Reds were in cruise control for the better part of
September, despite being six games back in the NL Central as late as Aug. 10.
Still and all, Cincinnati essentially knew it would be postseason bound in
some capacity after taking three of four from Arizona from Aug. 19-22.
The Reds, though, enter the postseason riding a five-game losing streak after
losing three straight home games to the Pirates.
"You've got to block it out," manager Dusty Baker said of the rough finish.
"It's a situation where it's a new season. What you did previously, it doesn't
matter. What you didn't do previously doesn't matter. Now you start the season
Cincinnati has something to prove this October after an awful collapse in last
year's NLDS. The Reds had won the first two games of that series with the San
Francisco Giants, only to lose the final three at home in the best-of-five set
to the eventual World Series champions.
Johnny Cueto made only eight pitches in that series before leaving Game 1 with
a strained oblique and will take the ball for the Reds Tuesday following an
injury-plagued 2013 that saw him make three trips to the disabled list.
"It's a really meaningful game for me," Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera.
"This is the most important game of the season. All I have to do is keep doing
my job. Baseball is still the same. I hope to do what I have to do."
After missing 2 1/2 months with a lat strain Cueto returned to make two starts
late in the season and allowed just one earned run in 12 innings. He ended his
year 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA.
"I'm going to be normal. I'm going to be the same guy," Cueto said. "What
happened to me in San Francisco, I was excited. I was so emotional for the
game and I think I overdid it too much. I really don't know what happened that
day or how I got to that point."
As bad as Liriano was against the Reds this season, Cueto has been the exact
opposite versus Pittsburgh, posting a 13-4 lifetime mark against the Pirates
with a 2.37 ERA in 21 starts.
"They have a great team," Cueto said. "They have really good players so I'm
going to have to do my job as well."
The matchup between Cueto and Liriano is just the third in postseason history
between two starting pitchers from the Dominican Republic. In both 1999 and
2004, Pedro Martinez faced off against Bartolo Colon.
"I want to tell my people in the Dominican Republic to follow this game,"
Cueto said. "There are two Dominicans on the mound. I want to give advice to
all the youth in the Dominican that you have to work hard and continue working
hard to do things like this."
The Pirates took 11 of their 19 meetings with the Reds, including five of the
nine matchups in Pittsburgh.
Tuesday's winner will face NL Central champion St. Louis in the NLDS beginning
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