Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pirates pull away from Rockies, return to playoffs for 3rd straight year

Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, 12:27 a.m.
Pittsburgh Pirates' Gregory Polanco and Aramis Ramirez celebrate their postseason berth after a 13-7 win over the Colorado Rockies in a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

DENVER — The Pirates punched their ticket to the playoffs for the third year in a row Wednesday, but it was not easy.
After nearly blowing a six-run lead, the Pirates poured it on late and routed the Colorado Rockies, 13-7.
“It's much better to be drinking champagne than it is to be preparing for the offseason with a week and a half to go,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “It's no surprise to me where we're at, but trust me, we don't forget where we were.”
Walker, a Pittsburgh kid born 30 years ago amid a season in which the Pirates lost 104 games, smacked a three-run homer and drove in a career-high six RBIs. Starling Marte had three hits, including a two-run double. Sean Rodriguez triggered a six-run ninth inning with a three-run double.
The victory assured the Pirates of at least a National League wild-card berth. They are four games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, and three games ahead of the Chicago Cubs for the top wild-card spot.
“We never got down, even when (the Rockies) started scoring some runs,” Rodriguez said. “The mood never changed. We just said, ‘All right, let's get some more, come on.' ”
After Justin Morneau grounded out to end it, the Pirates walked out of their dugout and formed a handshake line. Then they celebrated privately — and quietly — in the clubhouse.
There was no double-fisted chugging, no plastic sheets covering the lockers. Instead, the bubbly was poured into glass flutes, everyone stood and raised a toast ... or two or three. Manager Clint Hurdle, pitcher A.J. Burnett and catcher Francisco Cervelli each briefly spoke.
“It's a good bunch of men who protect each other, who play well for each other and who represent well,” Hurdle said later.
The reason for the low-key revelry, Walker said, is that bigger goals remain with 10 games left in the season.
“This year feels a little bit different than the last couple of years,” Walker said. “We're trying to take that next step of not only making the playoffs, but pushing forward and going deeper in the playoffs.”
Last year, the Pirates lost the wild-card game. In 2013, they fell to the Cardinals in five games in the NL Division Series. The Pirates have not won a postseason series since the 1979 World Series.
The Pirates won in spite of right-hander Charlie Morton, who failed to make it out of the fifth inning after being handed a 7-1 lead in the fourth.
Morton lasted only 4 13 innings, allowing six runs and 10 hits. In the fifth inning, he served up Corey Dickerson's solo homer and Tom Murphy's three-run shot.
“It got in a couple of tough spots and they put up a ton of runs,” Morton said. “I was just trying to limit damage. I was doing an OK job of that until the fifth.”
Over his past six starts, Morton is 1-4 with a 5.97 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP. It remains to be seen where — or even if — he fits in the postseason rotation.
The win went to Joe Blanton (4-0), who took over when it was 7-6. He was the first of four Pirates relievers who combined for 4 23 solid innings.
The Pirates struck early against right-hander Christian Bergman, who gave up seven runs in 3 23 innings.
With runners on second and third and two outs in the first, Walker floated a two-run single into shallow center field.
With one out in the third, Andrew McCutchen bounced a single up the middle. It was McCutchen's first hit in 13 plate appearances, although he drew six walks in that span.
Marte singled. Walker jumped on Bergman's next pitch, a changeup, and blasted a towering home run to right field. It was Walker's 15th homer of the season, tops among NL second basemen.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
Pirates clinch playoff spot with 13-7 win over Rockies
Pittsburgh Pirates' Neil Walker hits a two RBI single against the Colorado Rockies during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

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