Marte's homer helps put Pirates in postseason for first time since 1992
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 11:06 p.m.
CHICAGO — Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister is a big, tough Texan. And big, tough Texans don't cry.
Yet, there was Banister, wiping his eyes as he stood amid the euphoric chaos in the cramped visitor's clubhouse late Monday night at Wrigley Field.
Tears? Maybe. Or perhaps it was just the champagne that was sprayed everywhere as the Pirates celebrated a win that was 21 years in the making.
“I didn't want goggles. I'm an old-school guy,” Banister said. “There's something about the sting of the champagne that you never forget.”
Here's something else no one in that room will ever forget: Pirates 2, Cubs 1 — a victory that clinched the Pirates' first playoff bid since 1992.
“This is fun,” catcher Russell Martin said. “This organization's waited a long time. It's nice to get this feeling back in the clubhouse.”
The Cardinals and Reds also locked up their postseason bids Monday. All that remains is to determine the NL Central champion and which teams meet in the wild-card game.
In one reasonably dry corner of the room, hitting coach Jay Bell, a link to the club's glory days in the early 1990s, smiled as he looked on.
“This is how I remember it,” Bell said, with a catch in his voice. “This is a long time coming.”
The final play of the game had shades of the devastating playoff loss in 1992. After Ryan Sweeney singled, center fielder Andrew McCutchen saw Nate Schierholtz trying to score and fired to first baseman Justin Morneau. Martin took Morneau's throw, blocked the plate and tagged out Schierholtz.
Take that, Sid Bream.
Pirates fans chanted, “MVP!” as McCutchen ran off the field.
“Aw, I don't know about that,” McCutchen said with a shrug and a smile. “I just feel like a winner.”
The Pirates went into the game with a magic number of two. They came through on their end by beating the Cubs. A short while after the final out was made at Wrigley Field, the Cardinals beat the Nationals, 4-3, to reduce the number to zero.
“This is something we haven't done in a whole generation, really,” Banister said. “After 28 years in the organization (as a player and coach), it means the world to me. It's a thank-you to every one of those fans in Pittsburgh, because it means something to them.”
Solo home runs to left field by Neil Walker and Starling Marte accounted for both Pirates runs. Walker hit his in the first inning. Marte went deep in the ninth.
Pirates starter Charlie Morton was brilliant, allowing three hits over seven innings.
Although Morton had thrown only 89 pitches, manager Clint Hurdle opted to replace him with Mark Melancon to start the eighth inning. The Cubs tied the game on Donnie Murphy's RBI single through a drawn-in infield.
Cubs reliever Kevin Gregg got two strikeouts to start the ninth. Marte drilled a 2-1 pitch over the left field wall and pumped both fists as he watched the ball fly.
“I wasn't thinking home run,” Marte said. “I just wanted to put the ball in play. When I hit it, I knew it was out.”
The Pirates didn't open every bottle of bubbly Monday night. They'll need more if they win the NL Central title.
“You celebrate the small moments,” Banister said, “but you know you still have work to do.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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