Before the champagne showers, Bud Light baths and Abso-BUCN-lutely declarations, the Pittsburgh Pirates needed to hold on to a one-run lead against the Chicago Cubs on Monday night.
Russell Martin did just that.
Leading 2-1, thanks to a top-of-the-ninth home run by Starling Marte, the Pittsburgh defense stopped a potential tie and secured a win. With two outs and Nate Schierholtz on first, Ryan Sweeney knocked a line drive to right-center field. Marlon Byrd knocked it down, Andrew McCutchen fielded and it and rifled a throw home as Schierholtz was attempting to score.
Justin Morneau cut off the throw and fired home to Martin who protected the plate from a barreling Schierholtz. Martin raised his hand, showing the ball, and Pirates fans everywhere raised their Jolly Rogers for win No. 90.
Mere minutes later, the celebration continued in the Pirates clubhouse as the Washington Nationals fell to the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3, mathematically eliminating them from the playoffs and putting Pittsburgh in. With a 3-2 win over the New York Mets, the Cincinnati Reds also clinched a berth in the playoffs. The Cardinals have a two-game lead in the National League Central Division.
The Pirates scored first on Monday when Neil Walker hit his 14th home run of the season to Wrigley Field’s left-field bleachers. Pittsburgh starting pitcher Charlie Morton was masterful for seven innings, allowing just three hits, striking out five and walking one.
Morton was lifted in the eighth for Mark Melancon, appearing in his first game back as the set-up man since Jason Grilli went on the disabled list on July 22. Melancon was closing games while Grilli was being eased back into his normal position. Hs struggles of the past week continued as Melancon allowed two hits, including the tying run when pinch-hitter Donnie Murphy scored Brian Bogusevic on a single to left field.
Marte hit his 12th home run of the season off Kevin Gregg with two outs in the ninth, after Clint Barmes and Travis Snider struck out. It was the second homer of the season for Marte off the Cubs closer, and it helped end the Pirates’ 20-year playoff drought.