Pirates win, move one game ahead of Reds
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, 11:33 p.m.
CHICAGO — After sitting out the postseason for 20 years, the Pirates are not content to accept merely a wild-card spot.
“Our goal hasn't changed,” manager Clint Hurdle said Tuesday. “It's to win the division.”
That was the same message Andrew McCutchen delivered about 18 hours earlier, when the Pirates clinched their first playoff berth since 1992. McCutchen told teammates, “We'll party tonight, then we'll get ready to play tomorrow.”
Tuesday, the Pirates tugged on their jerseys in a clubhouse that still reeked of champagne. Then they went out and poured it on — with hits and runs, not sparkling wine — to crush the Chicago Cubs, 8-2.
The Pirates pounded out 12 hits, six of them for extra bases. Jordy Mercer hit a solo home run. Pedro Alvarez collected three RBI with a pair of doubles.
“It's another day at the ballpark,” McCutchen said. “We're here, ready to win. If anything, people should be a little more relaxed now. The more relaxed you are when you're playing, the easier it is to play at a high level.”
The Pirates trail the first-place Cardinals by two games in the NL Central. The Reds, who also have secured a playoff bid, are one game behind the Pirates. All three teams have four games left to play.
“(Monday) was a big day, but we know we've still got a lot of work ahead of us,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “So, we're very focused. We know what's at stake and what's still possible.”
Right-hander Gerrit Cole worked six innings and won his fourth consecutive start. Cole (10-7) is the first Pirates rookie to notch double-digit wins since Josh Fogg went 12-12 in 2002.
Cole had to work for it, though. He gave up seven hits — all singles — and worked through a tough, 34-pitch sixth inning.
“It was kind of a weird night, all night,” Cole said. “The pace of the game was slow. I felt like I had different stuff every inning. I lost my feel for the breaking ball for a couple innings. When I got it back, I lost the feel for the fastball.”
Trying to keep warm between innings — the temperature at Wrigley Field dipped into the 50s — Cole ran sprints in the tunnel leading from the dugout to the clubhouse.
“It was definitely a new challenge, with the cold weather and those long innings,” Cole said. “It was great to be able to learn from that.”
Cole gave up three straight singles to begin the third, but a running blunder by Nate Schierholtz and a double play got him out of trouble.
In the sixth, the Cubs scored a run and had the bases loaded with none out after a fielding error by shortstop Mercer. Cole struck out Dioner Navarro and pinch-hitter Luis Valbuena. Donnie Murphy hit a towering shot, but right fielder Marlon Byrd caught it on the warning track.
“He was backed up into a little bit of a corner,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He had to do some yard work. His first-pitch strikes were good, but his putaway pitches weren't as good as they've been in the past.”
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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