Back to Buctober: Pirates rally to clinch spot

Cole retires last 17 of gem; Marte plates winner; Bucs 1 1/2 out of first

September 24th, 2014

ATLANTA -- The Pirates certainly know how to celebrate anniversaries. Exactly one year after Starling Marte's ninth-inning tiebreaking home run in Wrigley Field secured the Bucs' first postseason berth in 21 years, Marte delivered a sixth-inning tiebreaking double Tuesday night as the Pirates beat the Braves, 3-2, to clinch a second straight playoff appearance.

And it kept getting better by the time the visiting clubhouse was getting cleaned up: The Cardinals were beaten in the 10th inning by the Cubs, pulling the Pirates within a game-and-a-half of the National League Central lead. St. Louis and Pittsburgh, furthermore, are separated by only one game in the loss column.

"It's a different guy every day," Josh Harrison, the batting title contender, said, trying to define the Bucs' work ethic.

Not on days they can nail down postseason berths. Then, it's always the same guy.

"Was that on the same day?" Marte asked incredulously in the rocking, dripping clubhouse. "I remember the home run. And this, it was beautiful."

Marte's one-out double scored Andrew McCutchen, who had led off with a double, to put the Bucs in position for their 41st comeback win and 32nd one-run decision of the season.

"That's Pirates baseball," explained Gerrit Cole, again the conductor of a major September triumph. "We don't go away. Gritty, hard ... frustrating at times.

"At the low points, we talked about how much sweeter it will be at the finish. And it is."

The Pirates had just been swept out of St. Louis at the beginning of September and went on to Chicago, where Clint Hurdle was asked about prospects for a turnaround.

"We need to play our best ball," Hurdle said. "If we play our best ball for the remaining games, we'll get in."

From that point through Tuesday night, the Pirates went 15-3.

"And we're in," Hurdle said, simply, not immodestly.

Milwaukee's loss in Cincinnati officially punched the Bucs' ticket, but they still have eyes on jumping the October rails on the National League Central title express and not the NL Wild Card local.

That had to explain one of the more sedate on-field celebrations ever witnessed by even the most veteran baseball watchers. As, for example, Turner Field fans who saw a visiting team celebrate either a postseason clincher or playoff series victory for the 11th time in the park's 17 seasons.

"We've got more work to do," Neil Walker said. "This hopefully was just the first stop. Not the destination."

"It's unbelievable," noted Ike Davis. "We don't yet know where we'll get in. But we are in. Just think: We now have a chance to win the World Series."

And with 15 wins in their last 18 games, why would the Pirates lower their sights?

The Cole Train pulled them into the station Tuesday night. Cole, who a year ago pitched both iconic wins No. 81 and No. 82 for a team that had not had a winning season in 20 years, was behind another landmark victory.

Cole allowed a first-inning run and was headed to bigger trouble when the Braves loaded the bases with none out in the second. Another run did score on a double-play grounder by Andrelton Simmons, but Cole was on his way to retiring the last 17 men he'd face. The righty did so despite a blister on his pitching hand that bled on to his uniform.

Cole, improving the September record for his fledgling career to 8-1, went seven innings on a yield of four hits and two runs, with two walks and eight strikeouts.

He bought more than enough time for the Pirates to go to work on left-hander Alex Wood's 2-0 lead.

"Anytime you score early, no matter what the situation is, it's always nice," Wood said. "You'd like to bear down a little bit more than I did."

"We felt it was coming," Cole said. "And when we got it, we locked it down."

The Bucs' first run was the result of a play they occasionally try, but never get right: With runners at the corners, have the man on first get into a rundown to enable the man on third to score.

Actually, it did not work right this time either. But it didn't have to. In the fourth, Marte was about to reverse field and elicit a rundown when he saw catcher Christian Bethancourt's throw sail wide of second baseman Phil Gosselin. So Marte continued onto second while McCutchen easily scored from third on the throwing error.

Travis Snider tied it at 2 with a leadoff homer the next inning, continuing to make the argument for regular play, regardless of the pitcher's dominant hand. Snider has always broken the mold of lefty hitters, and again is hitting far better against southpaws (.375) than against right-handers (.240).

"That one to Snider, you can't miss big," said Wood, implying that he had done just that. "Up here, you have to miss small when you miss, and it was just a really big miss and he made me pay for it."

"It's not about me. It's about this locker room of guys who are always ready to play their roles," Snider said. "This is the first payoff for all of us."