The long wait was certainly worth it.
Playing their first postseason game since 1992 and the first of its kind in PNC Park history, the Pittsburgh Pirates continued their magical 2013 season with a dominant 6-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Wild Card Game on Tuesday night.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington’s fingerprints were all over the monumental victory as his two major offseason signings played a major role in the Bucs advancing to the NLDS.
Francisco Liriano pitched seven strong innings and Russell Martin homered twice to power the Pirates in front of the largest crowd in PNC Park history.
Liriano was sharp from the first batter of the game, retiring the first nine Reds hitters en route to allowing only one earned run and only four hits in a masterful performance on the big stage. The southpaw struck out five and got 14 other outs via the ground ball as he kept the Reds off balance for most of the night.
While Liriano was simply outstanding, the Pirates bats delivered some huge hits as well.
Marlon Byrd, an August trade acquisition, hit a solo shot to left to lead off the second inning off of Reds starter Johnny Cueto, who had previously owned the Pirates throughout his career. The homer for Byrd came in his first postseason at-bat after 1,250 regular season games.
The Pirates didn’t stop there thought as two batters later Martin crushed a Cueto fastball into the left field bleachers to make it 2-0.
Cueto, who entered the contest with an 8-2 career mark with a 1.90 ERA was visibly rattled by the loud and energetic Pirates crowd during the at bat to Martin and left a pitch over the middle of the plate, which the Pirates catcher crushed.
Pedro Alvarez made it a 3-0 game with a sacrifice fly in the third inning that scored Andrew McCutchen, who reached on an infield single to lead off the inning.
The Reds cut the Bucs’ lead to 3-1 in the fourth when Jay Bruce delivered an opposite field RBI single that plated Shin-Soo Choo, but the Bucs answered right back.
Neil Walker doubled in Starling Marte to make it 4-1 and Byrd made it 5-1 with a fielder’s choice on a ground ball that should have been an inning-ending double play, but Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips booted it.
Cueto didn’t make it through the fourth inning and finished the night lasting only 3.1 innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits.
The game stayed 5-1 until the seventh when Martin clubbed his second solo shot of the game to make it a 6-1 ballgame.
Choo got one back for the Reds in the eighth when he hit a solo shot off of Tony Watson, but Jason Grilli retired Cincinnati in order in the ninth to send the Bucs onto the next round.
The Pirates finished the night with 13 hits. Martin had a three-hit night, while Marte, Walker and McCutchen all had two apiece.
The Bucs now have a date with the St. Louis Cardinals. Game 1 is scheduled for Thursday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. EST. A.J. Burnett is the likely Pirates starter to open the series and he will take on the Cardinals Adam Wainwright.