Reds, Pirates buckle down in season's final series
By Karen Price
Published: Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
CINCINNATI — With the Pirates and Reds on course to face each other in the National League wild-card game Tuesday, this series could come down to more than home-field advantage.
It could come down to a mental advantage as well, depending on who you ask.
Reds reliever Sam LeCure was quoted in a story on MLB.com as saying the Reds need to play well against the Pirates.
“Not only so we can secure home field for that wild-card game; we also want them to question whether they are able to beat us,” he said.
No matter what happens in this series, Neil Walker isn't buying the notion of one team getting into the other's head.
“The way we look at it is we've taken it one game at a time, one pitch at a time all year long,” Walker said before Friday's game at Great American Ball Park. “We're 8-8 on the season (against the Reds), so even if for some reason we didn't win any games here, this team is much too resilient and too strong. We've bounced back from tougher times than that this year. If that's the way they want to look at it, that's fine, but we're certainly not looking at it that way.”
After sweeping the Reds in April, the Pirates have gone 5-8 against their division foes to even the series. All but three of the first 16 games were decided by three runs or fewer, and five were one-run games, including three that went to extra innings.
With the teams knowing each other so well, Walker said, these final regular-season games likely will come down to what it came down to in Pittsburgh last weekend: being opportunistic.
“We made some mistakes in the first game, and it came back to haunt us. They made some mistakes in the second game, and it came back to haunt them. And the third game, we'll throw that one away,” Walker said. “But that's what happens in these types of games because we're such evenly matched teams as far as pitching staff, defense and offense. You just have to look for that opportunity and take advantage of your opportunities when they arise.”
Reds third baseman Todd Frazier, who has a team-high 13-game hitting streak against the Pirates, agreed that even if one team sweeps, it would have no bearing on Tuesday's game. For Frazier, Friday's game was almost like the start of the playoffs.
“It's crunch time,” he said. “Everything's different. It's changed. This is the best part of the year; it's the exciting part. We both made it, and now it's just to determine who wants to play in front of their crowd. It's just fun. I don't think you need to put pressure on yourself. You're here for a reason and, team-wise, just keep playing the way you have.”
Pirates closer Jason Grilli said that any sort of heavyweight pre-bout weigh-in chatter means nothing in baseball. All that matters is what unfolds on the field.
“This is a big series, of course. We know that; they know that,” he said. “I guess I can say confidently that the close games we've played, we've been under pressure all year long and how have we handled it? Pretty darn well.”
Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at email@example.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.
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