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Pirates clinch first playoff berth since 1992

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- The extra wait was worth it for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday.

And when the news finally came that St. Louis beat Washington 4-3, the Wrigley Field visitor's clubhouse erupted in celebration as the Pirates officially clinched their first postseason playoff berth in 21 seasons.

"To be able to have this opportunity to celebrate, to come together and do this, it's a day I'll always remember," Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen said amid the party. "We look forward to doing this year-in and year-out.

"And we're definitely not done."

Pittsburgh did its part in a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs as Starling Marte clubbed a go-ahead solo home run in the ninth.

The Pirates then waited about 20 minutes for the result that ended Washington's faint playoff hopes.

Marte's home run came off Cubs reliever Kevin Gregg in the top of the ninth. But the Pirates needed some last-ditch defensive heroics in the bottom of the frame to seal the deal.

The Cubs' Nate Schierholtz reached on a fielder's choice and bolted around the bases when Ryan Sweeney singled to right-center with two out.

But McCutchen fired a strike to first baseman Justin Morneau, who, in turn, relayed to catcher Russell Martin, who blocked the plate and tagged Schierholtz out to prevent the tying run from scoring.

"In that situation it's do or die, the guy's going to have to run me over," Martin said. "I was down on both knees there, I wasn't taking any chance he was going to get down underneath me."

Right-handed reliever Mark Melancon (3-2) pitched the eighth and got the win, while Pittsburgh right-hander Jason Grilli worked the ninth for his 32nd save.

It was the second straight loss in relief for Gregg (2-6), who also struck out three in his one inning of work.

Neil Walker's first-inning solo home run gave the Pirates a lead they would maintain until the eighth.

Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton worked seven scoreless innings but had to settle for his third straight no-decision. He yielded three hits, walked one and struck out five.

The Cubs tied the game in the in the eighth as Brian Bogusevic singled to center to open the inning against Melancon.

Bogusevic reached second on Darwin Barney's infield grounder and moved to third on a wild pitch. Pinch-hitter Donnie Murphy brought him home when he lined a single to left.

Chicago starter Jeff Samardzija pitched six innings and allowed just one run on five hits, while striking out seven and walking four.

"Besides Walker's home run, he didn't give up any really hard contact tonight," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He threw the ball really well tonight, had a hard cutter tonight. His cutter was getting swung and missed at more than it has all year. That was good to see."

His last win came on Aug. 24, a 3-2 victory at San Diego. Since then he's had a loss and four no-decisions.

"I like how I've been throwing the ball lately, everything felt good," Samardzija said. "I was happy with how the day went."

Walker's home run was his 14th of the season and came on a 1-1 pitch from Samardzija.

Martin reached third with one out in the second, but he was tagged out at the plate on Morton's bunt.

The Cubs had runners at second and third in the bottom of the inning following Bogusevic's double down the first-base line, but Barney lined out to left to end the threat.

Pittsburgh had lost five of seven coming into the series and split its previous six games at Wrigley Field.

It was the second consecutive day that Champagne flowed in the Wrigley Field visitor's clubhouse. On Sunday, the Atlanta Braves clinched the National League East crown.

Samardzija said that's the Cubs ultimate goal.

"That's what it's all about," he said. "That's why you work hard in the offseason, that's why you work hard in spring training, that's why you want to get off to a fast start in April and May so you can have those moments."

NOTES: The Pirates last reached the playoffs with a 96-win season in 1992, when they lost in the National League Championship Series to the Braves. After that came 20 consecutive losing years until 2013. ... Pittsburgh has a 40-36 road record, the franchise's best since posting a 43-38 mark in 1992. ... Pittsburgh RHP Gerrit Cole (9-7, 3.23 ERA) goes against Chicago LHP Chris Rusin (2-5, 3.52) on Tuesday. ... Sweeney played in his 600th major league game. ... Cubs RHP Carlos Villanueva began the night 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in 12 relief appearances since Aug. 21. He held opponents to a .196 average while walking just three and striking out 16 in that span.
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