A sign on the way to the Pirates dugout at PNC Park features a quote from Roberto Clemente, whose name and image are everywhere here: “When I put on my uniform, I feel I am the proudest man on earth.”
Either the Reds or Pirates will head to St. Louis after tonight’s National League wild card playoff game feeling something like that. A 162-game season comes down to one game.
For the Reds, it’s a chance to erase the last homestand of the season. The Reds were tied with the Pirates for second place on Sept. 23 and then lost their last five games.
“It’s behind us now,” said Reds manager Dusty Baker before a workout at PNC Park on Monday. “It is a new season. You either win or you go home.”
The Pirates won the season series 11-8 by sweeping three games at Great American Ball Park last weekend. The Reds had one lead in the whole series, and it didn’t even last an inning. They trailed 2-0 on Saturday and jumped ahead 3-2 in the third. The Pirates tied it in the top of the fourth.
Asked if momentum will play a part in tonight’s game, Baker said, “The momentum’s in the hand of the pitcher. If a guy’s pitching well, then momentum means nothing. We’ve got our ace, Johnny Cueto, on the mound. We plan on winning just like they plan on winning.”
Cueto has extra motivation because he exited the Reds’ first postseason game a year ago in the first inning with back spasms. The Reds won the first two games against the Giants in the NL Division Series anyway, but the injury haunted the Reds when they lost Game 5 at home. Cueto would have started that game.
Cueto learned from that experience. He said Sunday he’s going to be the same guy he always is on the mound, not the guy he was last October before Game 1.
“I was so excited, so emotional for that game,” Cueto said. “I tried to do too much.”
Cueto is 13-4 all-time against the Pirates in 21 starts with a 2.34 ERA. He’s 8-2 with a 1.90 ERA at PNC Park. The current Pirates have a career .213 batting average against Cueto, though Marlon Byrd is 7-of-14 and Andrew McCutchen has three home runs in 39 at-bats.
The Pirates counter with Francisco Liriano, one of two longtime Minnesota Twins in the lineup, along with first baseman Justin Morneau. Liriano signed as a free agent in the offseason after two subpar seasons in Minnesota in which he went a combined 12-20 with ERAs over 5.00 both years.
Like the Pirates franchise, which is making its first postseason appearance since 1992, Liriano has resurrected himself. He’s 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA. He’s even better at home: 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA. Howver, Liriano is 0-3 against the Reds in four starts with a 3.70 ERA.
“He can get a little erratic,” Reds right fielder Jay Bruce said. “When he does make mistakes, you have to take advantage of them. I think that kind of goes back to not trying to do too much. You can’t do too much with those pitches you get the opportunity to do something with.
“It may be one or two per couple of at-bats. He’s had an amazing year, but he’s beatable. We’ve beat him before. That’s the plan.”
Reds at Pirates, 8:07 p.m., TBS, 700, 1410