Cincinnati needs to win final two games of season to earn home field
CINCINNATI -- It was just a matter of days ago that the Reds and Pirates both had their eyes focused on the National League Central title and a fast track to the NL Division Series next week.
Instead, with St. Louis clinching the division on Friday, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will meet in the NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday. Although that might not be the way either team hoped to kick off their potential playoff runs, it might be the most fitting considering how they've played each other this season.
Closing out the regular season with a three-game set this weekend at Great American Ball Park, the Pirates walked out with a 4-1 win in the opener on Friday. That gave Pittsburgh a slim 9-8 advantage in the season series, as the two clubs have fought tooth and nail against each other all year.
The safe bet is on that season-long battle overlapping into the postseason. By then, the Reds and Pirates will be meeting for the 20th time in 2013, and there won't be any surprises between the two evenly-matched teams.
"That's it, no secrets," Reds third baseman Todd Frazier said. "We know what they got, and they know what we got."
While the record between the two clubs indicates a lot, the scores of the games themselves tell even more of the story.
Eleven of the 17 meetings have been decided two runs or fewer, with six of those being one-run games. Of the six other games, only three of them saw one team win by more than three runs.
For Reds manager Dusty Baker, the reason for all of those tightly contested matchups is simple.
"We both have good pitching," Baker said. "I think that's No. 1. I think that's Nos. 1, 2 and 3. We have good pitching. I don't know where we are in the standings, but I'm pretty sure both of us are close to the top."
As of Friday night, Pirates pitching owned the second-lowest ERA in baseball at 3.27, trailing only the Braves (3.16 ERA). The Reds weren't far behind, ranked fourth in the Majors with a 3.35 ERA.
As expected with all the close, often low-scoring games, the two clubs have already delivered plenty of special moments this season.
The excitement began with the first meeting of the year on April 12, when Andrew McCutchen hit a solo shot in the seventh to give the Pirates a 6-5 win. On June 2, Travis Snider connected on an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th as Pittsburgh won the first of three extra-inning games between the two teams.
It took more than nine innings to decide a winner again on June 19, but this time it was the Reds coming out on top thanks to Brandon Phillips' bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 13th. The last extra-inning meeting came on Sept. 20, when Cincinnati scored three runs to tie it in the ninth before Joey Votto hit the game-winning home run in the top of the 10th.
On top of competitiveness, there's been a fair share of animosity between the Reds and Pirates, who have combined for 26 hit-by-pitches -- more than any two teams in the Majors.
All of it has led to the formation of what Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick said is becoming a pretty good rivalry.
"There should be a lot of intensity between the two clubs," Ludwick said. "I know they're hungry; I know that city over there is hungry. And I know we're hungry and our city is hungry."
Before they meet on Tuesday, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have two more games to play in the regular season. The Reds need to win both to earn home-field advantage, while a split would result in the Wild Card Game being held at PNC Park.
Regardless of location, though, the Reds know what they're in for against the Pirates. And they have no reason to believe they can't come out on top against a very familiar foe.
"I have confidence in our team," right fielder Jay Bruce said. "I believe we're the better team, and I think they believe they're probably the better team. That's just the nature of the game. But I expect to win."
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com.