Bucs' focus on playing WC Game at PNC Park
Pirates can clinch home-field for Wild Card showdown with one win or Cubs loss
PITTSBURGH -- On Wednesday, the Cardinals took away the Pirates' "Plan A," as manager Clint Hurdle put it: a National League Central championship. On Friday, the Bucs moved within one step of securing Plan B: a one-game showdown at their home ballpark.
By outlasting the Reds over 12 innings in a 6-4 win on Friday night, the Pirates shrank their magic number to host the NL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser to one. The Bucs need only one win or a Cubs loss over the next two days to guarantee the game will be played at PNC Park. The games are available to stream free out of market on MLB.TV, presented by AT&T. Blackout restrictions apply.
Even as the Pirates begin their "internal discussions" about facing the Cubs on Wednesday, there's still something at stake this weekend. The Bucs are in the driver's seat, but the Cubs are still close enough to make it interesting.
"Our focus is on today," Hurdle said before Friday's game. "Our goal is to nail down the opportunity to play at home. Our next goal would be to win that game. Then you go to the Division Series, then you keep moving the chains until you win a world championship."
That focus on "today" eventually allowed the Pirates to pull away from the Reds in the 12th inning, when Starling Marte ripped a two-run, walk-off homer into the right-field seats.
"I don't worry about the Cubs," Marte said. "I just play the game hard every day and try to get the runner to home plate."
Marte's second walk-off blast of the season came less than an hour after the Cubs beat the Brewers, 6-1. A loss would have trimmed Pittsburgh's Wild Card lead to just one game.
It also would have practically eliminated the Pirates' margin for error the rest of the weekend. If they lost Friday, they likely would have had to win their final two games -- or count on the Brewers to take at least one game from the Cubs, who own the tiebreaker between the two clubs after winning their season series.
Instead, their next win will guarantee another game at PNC Park on Wednesday night. And home-field advantage does indeed matter for the Pirates. They've gone 52-27 at home this year, their third straight season with at least 50 wins in Pittsburgh.
"We've had a better chance to win here than anywhere else," Hurdle said. "Our pitchers like pitching here. Our hitters like hitting here. ... The most important part, for me, is playing in front of the fans. That's the most significant change. ... Our fans have been awesome."
"Everybody likes to play at home. We're just trying to win tomorrow," added right fielder Gregory Polanco. "With the fans and all that, it's better to play at home."