The Pittsburgh Pirates were celebrating before they even played their wild card game on Oct. 1. While the Pirates still had to beat the Cincinnati Reds, the fact they were even playing in October for the first time in 21 years caused a party atmosphere. With that kind of setting at PNC Park, the Reds were nothing more than spectators, and they played like it in their inevitable 6-2 loss.
It was clear early on that Cincinnati wouldn’t do much against Pittsburgh’s Francisco Liriano. The Reds’ Johnny Cueto would have to match him pitch for pitch, but instead gave up two second-inning home runs -- and dropped the ball right before the second home run by Russell Martin.
Cueto was gone by the end of the fourth inning, soon after the Reds narrowly missed taking a 4-3 lead on a Todd Frazier blast that barely went foul. That was the last real chance Cincinnati had to come back, as Liriano would go on to give up just four hits through seven innings, while Martin hit a second home run for good measure.
If the Reds had spoiled this moment for the Pirates, it would have been a profound anticlimax in Pittsburgh. But thanks to this coronation, the Pirates will get to distract the city from the Steelers’ 0-4 start for at least another week. What’s more, they will next face another NL Central rival in the St. Louis Cardinals, with at least one more playoff game to be in Pittsburgh.
Should the Pirates upset the Cardinals, they could then face the Atlanta Braves -- the team that triggered Pittsburgh’s 21 years of misery in the 1991 and 1992 NLCS. All told, this may be one long overdue revenge tour for the Pirates on the way to a Cinderella pennant.
Of course, the Cardinals, Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers are tougher playoff opponents than the Reds, who completed another disappointing September and October by losing four straight to the Pirates. After losing three straight to the San Francisco Giants to close last year’s NLDS, Cincinnati is bound to grow even more impatient.
Pittsburgh has been one of the most patient baseball cities in the modern era, yet it was finally delivered on Oct. 1. However, it would prefer not to wait 21 more years for the Pirates to advance in the playoffs again -- or even one more week.