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Those Battlin' Bucs: Playoffs bound!

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

It was the flub followed by the save followed by the relay followed by the throwout at home plate heard around Pirate Nation, if not the sporting world. And it doesn't get much more dramatic than this:

In Chicago, the Cubs' Ryan Sweeney singled to Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd with two outs in the ninth inning. He bobbled the ball. But center fielder Andrew McCutchen scooped it up and fired it to first baseman Justin Morneau, who had positioned himself next to the pitcher's mound. He then fired a shot to catcher Russell Martin, who tagged out the Cubs' Nate Schierholtz, waved home on Byrd's bobble.

“OUT!” the umpire signaled — after a second that felt like days.

The Pirates won 2-1 and, with the help of a Washington Nationals loss, are guaranteed their first playoff berth since 1992. Twenty years of disappointment and embarrassment evaporated Monday night at Wrigley Field.

The Battlin' Bucs are assured of at least a wild card slot, that do-or-die, one-game-elimination system likely to pit Pittsburgh against the Cincinnati Reds. But the Pirates still have a shot at overcoming National League Central leader St. Louis and winning the division outright.

So break out those old Green Weenies, start practicing the sign of Zoltan and prepare for a wild ride, one that hopefully concludes with the previously unthinkable — a trip to, and a victory in, the World Series.

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