Pirates Clinch Playoff Berth for 1st Time in Over 20 Years

Pirates Clinch Playoff Berth for 1st Time in Over 20 Years

Starling Marte homered with two outs in the ninth inning to snap a tie with the Cubs, giving the Pirates a 2-1 win Monday night and clinching a tie for a National League playoff berth as a Wild Card team.
CHICAGO, IL - Go crazy, Pittsburgh. Your Pirates have brought postseason baseball back to its early '90s home, to where the Allegheny and the Monongahela merge to form the Ohio.

Starling Marte homered with two outs in the ninth inning to snap a tie with the Cubs, giving the Pirates a 2-1 win Monday night and clinching a tie for a National League playoff berth as a Wild Card team. With the Nationals' 4-3 loss to the Cardinals, the Pirates are officially in the postseason for the first time since 1992.

Three-and-a-half miles from the world headquarters of the Morton Salt Co., Charlie Morton tried to salt away the Bucs' postseason fate with his second straight brilliant start.

Morton blanked the Cubs on three hits for seven innings, and had thrown only 89 pitches when he was removed in favor of Mark Melancon.

In reenacting his setup role of the first half of this season, Melancon surrendered a game-tying RBI single to pinch-hitter Donnie Murphy.

After Marte's dramatic blow off deposed Cubs closer Kevin Gregg, Tony Watson notched the first out of the bottom of the ninth before Jason Grilli entered to nail down his 32nd save of the season.

Neil Walker made the last play of the Bucs' prior seminal win -- No. 82, on Sept. 9 in Arlington -- and got the first blow of this one.

His homer with one out in the first gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead. It was Walker's fourth in five games and 14th of the season -- matching the season high he'd set last year.

Walker's opposite-field shot, as the saying goes in the dugouts, got Jeff Samardzija's attention. The hirsute right-hander didn't give the Bucs anything else during his stint, shortened to six innings by the four walks and seven strikeouts that had his pitch count at 94.

Samardzija hitting his spots put Morton on the spot. He handled it impressively.

Morton's one major crisis developed with two outs in the second, when Brian Bogusevic followed a walk of Ryan Sweeney with a liner into the right-field corner for a double.

With the runners on second and third, Darwin Barney did get in a good lick, but his liner carried out to left fielder Jose Tabata for the third out.

The Cubs wouldn't get another man on base until Barney -- with two outs and an 0-2 count -- was hit by Morton's pitch in the fifth. And they did not get another man in scoring position until he was out of the game.

Barney, incidentally, was the National League-leading 15th batter hit this season by Morton, in only 109 innings. Pitching inside apparently is as critical to his success as the sinker: The only previous time Morton hit batters in double figures was 2011, when he plunked 13, in 171 2/3 innings, on his way to his best season to date, winning 10 games with a 3.83 ERA.

--Tom Singer, MLB.com
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