CINCINNATI (AP) — The Pirates are one win away from hosting a playoff game.
Marlon Byrd had three hits and Pedro Alvarez hit a two-run homer high off the batter’s eye on Friday night, leading Pittsburgh over the Cincinnati Reds 4-1 in a series that will decide which one hosts the NL wild-card game.
Both teams clinched postseason berths this week. The Pirates’ chances of winning the NL Central ended later Friday night when St. Louis beat the Cubs 7-0 to clinch the title.
So now it comes down to the wild-card playoff next Tuesday night, and the Pirates are one win away from taking it to PNC Park.
Nice way to start a decisive series.
“It’s huge,” Byrd said. “We want to get that one-game playoff in Pittsburgh.”
Byrd and Alvarez provided all of the Pirates’ runs off Homer Bailey (11-12), who is struggling with his control heading into the postseason. A.J. Burnett (10-11) handled the Reds’ slumping lineup, allowing Todd Frazier’s homer and five hits overall in eight innings. Jason Grilli gave up a hit in the ninth while getting his 33rd save in 35 chances.
“It gives us some momentum, no doubt about that,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “When you pretty much dominate through eight innings, it sparks everybody. That’s what we were looking for from him.”
Cincinnati has lost three straight and scored one run in the last 22 innings.
“Once I got that (homer), I thought we might get a spark going, but we couldn’t find it,” Frazier said.
The bruising, tight-as-could-be series has gone up and down the Ohio River all summer long with neither team able to get much advantage. The Pirates lead the series 9-8. Fourteen of the 17 games have been decided by three runs or less. Batters have been plunked 26 times during the season series, most in the majors this year.
It’s the biggest series between them since 1990, when the Reds beat Barry Bonds and the Pirates to reach the World Series, where they swept Oakland for their last title.
The Pirates got the early advantage in this decisive series by beating Bailey, who threw the first of his two no-hitters at PNC Park on Sept. 28 last year. Since then, he’s failed to beat the Pirates in four starts, going 0-3.
Control has been a problem lately. He helped the Pirates load the bases in the third on a hit batter and a pair of walks, and Byrd — an August trade acquisition from the Mets — singled through the hole at shortstop for a 2-0 lead.
Byrd doubled off the top of the wall in center field to open the sixth, and Alvarez hit his 35th homer high off the batter’s eye for a 4-1 lead that ended Bailey’s outing. He gave up four runs, four hits, four walks, hit two batters and threw a wild pitch.
“Any time you can get separation in the lead against a team like the Reds, it’s huge,” Alvarez said. “That’s why we were all pretty excited. You can never have too much breathing room with those guys.”
Burnett handled Cincinnati’s slumping lineup, retiring the last 10 batters he faced. Frazier hit his 19th homer off the screen on the left-field foul pole in the fourth, ending Cincinnati’s streak of 16 scoreless innings.
Burnett also beat the Reds and Bailey 4-2 last Saturday at PNC Park, allowing only four hits and fanning 12 in seven innings. He followed that outing by getting the Pirates off to the start they wanted at Great American Ball Park.
“Anytime you come into somebody else’s house in the first game, you want to do that,” Burnett said. “It just happens to be an important part of the season.”
Joey Votto singled twice, surpassing Pete Rose’s club record of reaching base 311 times in a season.
NOTES: The Reds wore their Los Rojos jerseys to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. ... Hurdle will change his starting pitcher on Sunday if nothing’s at stake. RH Gerrit Cole (10-7) is scheduled to go against RH Johnny Cueto (5-2). Hurdle would keep Cole available as insurance for the wild-card game on Tuesday. ... Alvarez’s homer gave him 99 RBIs. ... Reds manager Dusty Baker doesn’t plan to use LH Tony Cingrani in relief during the series. Cingrani is recovering from his second bout of back spasms. ... Bronson Arroyo (14-11) starts on Saturday against Pittsburgh’s Charlie Morton (7-4). Morton has given up only one run in his last three starts at Great American Ball Park, throwing two complete games.