x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pirates beat Reds 8-3 for home-field advantage

Neil Walker hits two of Pittsburgh’s six homers as Pirates beat Cincinnati Reds to clinch home-field advantage for National League’s wild card play-off game.

Neil Walker, of the Pittsburgh Pirates, hit two homers against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday. Al Behrman / AP Photo
Neil Walker, of the Pittsburgh Pirates, hit two homers against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday. Al Behrman / AP Photo

CINCINNATI // Hundreds of Pirates fans stood, twirled their towels and chanted “Let’s Go Bucs!” as Jay Bruce hit a grounder for the final out, setting up a play-off game in Pittsburgh.

Baseball, this time.

Neil Walker hit two of Pittsburgh’s six homers – their biggest power surge in six years – and the Pirates clinched home-field advantage for the NL’s wild card play-off game by beating the Cincinnati Reds 8-3 on Saturday.

Pittsburgh will host the Reds on Tuesday night in the Pirates’ first play-off appearance in 21 years. Pittsburgh went 50-31 at PNC Park, the third-best home record in the NL, and wanted to make that long-awaited play-off return at home.

They got what they wanted. The post-season will start at PNC Park.

“It’s going to be a really exciting time,” Walker said. “Something a lot of people haven’t experienced with Pirate baseball. I imagine it’s going to be Steeler-esque on Tuesday.”

The Reds will go with Johnny Cueto (5-2) in the one-game play-off against left-hander Francisco Liriano (16-8). Mat Latos was on schedule to start for Cincinnati, but manager Dusty Baker said he has developed a sore arm.

The Pirates won five of nine games against the Reds at PNC Park this season.

“The important thing for me is getting the guys home and playing in a park where we won 50 games and giving our fans a taste of postseason baseball,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

Pittsburgh hit five homers off Bronson Arroyo (14-12), who had never given up that many in a game in his career. Walker homered twice off the right-hander, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez also hit solo homers, and Marlon Byrd had a two-run shot that ended Arroyo’s outing in the fifth and made it 6-3.

Latos is not the only Reds starter who is hurting. Arroyo said his back started bothering him on Saturday.

“It locked up right before the game,” Arroyo said. “I was in the tunnel. It was like I was being stabbed in the ribs and I couldn’t swivel from side to side.

“I don’t think it had much to do with the game. You can’t leave balls in up the zone in this ballpark against that lineup and get away with it.”

Prospect Andrew Lambo hit his first homer off Logan Ondrusek, the first time the Pirates had six in a game since August 22, 2007 at Colorado.

Charlie Morton, the Pirates starter, also struggled, leaving with one out and the bases loaded in the fifth. Vin Mazzaro (8-2) fanned Zack Cozart and retired Ryan Hanigan on a fly ball as the slumping Reds left the bases loaded for the second time in the game.

Cincinnati stranded 11 runners overall.

Both teams already had clinched wild-card berths heading into their weekend series. Whoever took it would host the one-game showdown. Pittsburgh made quick work of it, winning the opener 4-1 on Friday night and then the second game, too.

“Better to be home than on the road,” McCutchen said. “Today showed how bad we wanted to go home. We answered in a big way.”

The Ohio River rivals have met five times in the play-offs – 1970, 1972, 1975, 1979 and 1990, when the Reds won their last World Series title. The Reds are 13-7 against the Pirates in the post-season. Pittsburgh have played the Reds more than any other team in the play-offs.

The Reds have gone into a deep slump at a very bad time. They have lost four in a row since clinching a play-off spot with a 3-2 win over the Mets on Monday night, scoring a total of six runs.

They were at it again in the first inning on Saturday, leaving the bases loaded when Todd Frazier flied out.

Walker and McCutchen hit back-to-back homers in the third for a 2-0 lead. Brandon Phillips had an RBI single and Jay Bruce followed with a two-run double for a 3-2 lead in the third, Cincinnati’s first lead since Monday.

And it did not last long.

Alvarez led off the fourth inning with a first-pitch homer, tying it at three. Alvarez’s 36th homer gave him 100 RBIs. Walker hit his career-high 16th homer in the fifth inning – the first multihomer game of his career – and Byrd’s two-run shot ended Arroyo’s outing. Walker has seven homers in September.

Lambo’s pinch-hit homer let the Pirates tie the record for most by a visiting team at Great American Ball Park, which opened in 2003.

sports@thenational.ae