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Bucs turned away after big 6th-inning threat

PITTSBURGH -- After being pushed around by Jake Arrieta for five innings en route to a 4-0 loss on Wednesday night, the Pirates finally put his back up against the wall in the sixth.

Trailing by four runs, the Bucs loaded the bases with one out. The rally woke up a quiet PNC Park crowd in the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser, but Arrieta made the final push, getting Starling Marte to ground into an inning-ending double play.

:: NL Wild Card Game: Cubs vs. Pirates -- Coverage ::

Just like that, the Pirates' best opportunity to beat the unbeatable Arrieta was gone, and he cruised the rest of the way to a four-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts.

"You try different things to get things accomplished, and at the end of the day, everything we tried eventually got shut down or pushed back," Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said. "We weren't able to score."

Arrieta cruised through his first five innings, allowing only one hit (a single in the first inning) and striking out eight. But the Pirates finally mounted a rally with some solid contact in the sixth.

Pinch-hitting for Antonio Bastardo to lead off the inning, Travis Snider knocked a ground-ball single to right field. Gregory Polanco smoked a line drive, projected by Statcast™ to leave his bat at 107 mph, right at third baseman Kris Bryant, who bobbled the ball before reeling it back in for the first out.

Arrieta hit the next batter, Josh Harrison, in the shoulder with an 0-1 pitch. That brought the crowd of 40,889 -- the largest in PNC Park's history -- to life.

Up came Andrew McCutchen, who crushed a ground ball up the middle. Shortstop Addison Russell stopped the ball but couldn't corral it, allowing the Bucs to load the bases.

That brought up Marte, batting cleanup for only the fourth time since July 25. Marte took one ball in the dirt, then swung at a 95-mph fastball, hitting it on the ground with 109-mph exit velocity, as projected by Statcast™.

"It was a point in the game where we had some momentum. It's baseball," Harrison said. "All you can control is hitting the ball hard, and that's what Marte did."

But Russell was once again in position to make the play, and he was eager to atone for his previous error. Russell fielded Marte's grounder and flipped it to second baseman Starlin Castro for one out, then Castro fired to Anthony Rizzo to force out Marte.

"Oh, man. That meant everything to me. Just booting that first one, you've got to turn the page," Russell said. "Marte, he barreled that ball, I bobbled it a little bit, spit it out, and Casty made a beautiful turn."

That's why, realistically, Arrieta was fortunate to escape the jam. He allowed only 13 batted balls all season with an exit velocity of 107 mph before serving up three straight -- Polanco (107), McCutchen (107) and Marte (109) -- in the sixth.

The Cubs turned two of those into crucial outs when they needed them the most, and Arrieta took care of the rest.

"There was an inning -- maybe five outs, four or five outs -- that I wasn't crisp, but that was about it," Arrieta said. "That was in the span of about 25 pitches over the course of five or so outs. But other than that, it was more than good."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, Starling Marte