Pirates homer their way to home-field advantage
By Travis Sawchik
Published: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, 4:42 p.m.
CINCINNATI — Neil Walker was 7 years old the last time a major league playoff game was hosted by his native city. On Saturday, Walker ensured the postseason returned to Pittsburgh.
Walker's first multihomer game was part of a six home run day by the Pirates, smashing their way to an 8-3 win over the Reds and to home-field advantage in Tuesday's wild-card game.
The Pirates (93-68) and Reds (90-71) will meet at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the first playoff game at PNC Park. The winner advances to the National League Division Series. Francisco Liriano will match up against Johnny Cueto.
“It's going to be an exciting time, something a lot of people haven't experienced with Pirate baseball,” Walker said. “I'm imagining it's going to be Steeler-esque on Tuesday.”
No other Pirate has been asked more often about breaking and experiencing the Pirates' 20-year postseason drought. That's because unlike his teammates, Walker lived through the losing. He attended games at Three Rivers Stadium. He was the Pirates' first-round selection in 2004 out of Pine-Richland High School. Walker understands the city's baseball suffering, and Saturday he did his part to alleviate it.
In the fifth inning, he hit his second home run of the game off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo to give the Pirates' a 4-3 lead. The go-ahead shot would be the last scoring the Pirates needed as the bullpen posted 42⁄3 shutout innings.
Walker had the key shot in the homer barrage, and he also began it with a solo shot in the third. Andrew McCutchen followed two pitches later with his 21st home run.
“If six home runs doesn't (set the tone), I don't know what will,” McCutchen said. “(Saturday) showed how badly we wanted to go home.”
In the fourth, Pedro Alvarez tied the score at 3-3 with a solo shot, matching Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt for the NL lead with 36 home runs.
Marlon Byrd added a two-run blast in the fifth, knocking Arroyo from the game. In the sixth, Andrew Lambo hit is first major league homer, extending the lead to 7-3.
It was the first time the Pirates homered six times — one shy of the club record — since Aug. 22, 2007, in Colorado.
Home field is emotionally important because Pittsburgh hasn't hosted an MLB playoff game since Oct. 11, 1992. But home field is also tactically important. Both clubs are better at home, and Liriano has a 1.47 home ERA vs. a 4.32 road ERA.
The offense was needed on a day Charlie Morton struggled with control. He walked five and allowed a two-run double to Jay Bruce in the third, staking the Reds a 3-2 lead. Morton wasn't able to pitch through the fifth. After loading the bases with one out, he was replaced Vin Mazzaro, who struck out Zack Cozart and got Ryan Hanigan to ground out to end the Reds' last best chance of opening the postseason in Cincinnati.
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
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