Pirates win right to host Cubs in WC Game
Bucs take Game 162 to clinch home-field edge over Chicago
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates already knew the what, who and when. Now, they know where. The Bucs will host the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser at 8 p.m. ET (on TBS) on Wednesday at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh clinched home-field advantage in the NL's win-or-go-home showdown for the third straight year by beating the Reds, 4-0, in Game 162 on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park. The Cubs beat the Brewers, 3-1, but the Pirates' victory -- their 98th of the season -- kept them one game ahead in the standings.
The Pirates finished the season 98-64, the Majors' second-best record and Pittsburgh's highest win total since capturing the NL East title in 1991. At 97-65, the Cubs finished with the third-best record in baseball -- but they will be on the road with their season on the line Wednesday night.
"We love playing at home," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We love it when our fans show up. They should be loud, and they should be proud. Our men are looking forward. We're really looking forward to the opportunity. We've earned it."
After guaranteeing themselves another game in front of their home crowd, the Pirates must quickly turn their attention toward a sizable challenge: beating right-hander Jake Arrieta and the Cubs.
The Pirates like their chances, even against Chicago's NL Cy Young Award candidate. Why? Because they'll send 25-year-old ace Gerrit Cole to the mound Wednesday.
"That's the thing that I like. Everybody talks about Arrieta, but nobody talks about Cole," Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli said. "It's good when nobody says anything. We'll see what happens."
In four starts against the Cubs this season, Cole has gone 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA. He went 9-3 with a 2.83 ERA in 15 starts at PNC Park this year.
But Arrieta and the young Cubs lineup present an entirely different set of challenges. Arrieta is 3-1 with an 0.75 ERA in five starts against the Pirates this season. He's 13-1 with a 1.60 ERA in 18 starts on the road. And of course, he went 12-1 with a 0.75 ERA in a historic second half of the season.
The Bucs dropped their season series with the Cubs, 11-8. That's why they had to win Sunday. Had they lost while the Cubs won, Wednesday's game would have been played at Wrigley Field.
The Pirates' losing record against the Cubs is representative of the struggles they experienced all year within their own division. They breezed through the NL East (24-9) and West (27-6) and cleaned up in Interleague Play (13-7). But they didn't win a single season series against an NL Central club.
The Pirates finished the regular season with a 34-42 intradivisional record. So naturally, in order to return to the NL Championship Series for the first time since 1992, they'll have to clear two NL Central hurdles to get there.
The winner of Wednesday's game will head straight to St. Louis, where they will face the Cardinals in a best-of-five NL Division Series that begins Friday at Busch Stadium (also on TBS).
The Bucs have been one of the Majors' best teams on their own turf, finishing the regular season with a 53-28 record at their ballpark. That edge should be magnified by a sea of black along the Allegheny River on Wednesday night.
"If I can get an early birthday present, which is on the 10th, it'd be for everybody to come black it out," Andrew McCutchen said. "That definitely helps out."
Cervelli observed the PNC Park "blackout" last year from afar. While on vacation, the only postseason game Cervelli watched was the Giants' 8-0 win over the Pirates in the 2014 NL Wild Card Game.
This year, as in 2013, the Pirates hope to see the result on the field match the atmosphere at the ballpark.
"That was unbelievable," Cervelli said. "I can't wait to see it."