Pirates win, face Reds again Tuesday

Jeff Wallner, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CINCINNATI -- The regular season is over, but the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are not finished playing each other.
On Sunday afternoon, shortstop Jordy Mercer went 3-for-4, including an inside-the-park home run and a triple, lifting the Pirates to a 4-2 victory over the Reds, completing a three-game sweep in the regular-season finale before 40,142 fans at Great American Ball Park.
"Our goal's always been to finish stronger than we started," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "I believed in our work ethic, our preparation and focus with the lessons learned the past two years. We believe in ourselves."
Pittsburgh (94-68) hosts Cincinnati (90-72) in the National League Wild Card game on Tuesday night at PNC Park in the first postseason game played in the Steel City since 1992. The winner of Tuesday's game will advance to the division series to face the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sunday afternoon's game had a spring-training feel with few regulars in the lineup for an extended period.
Cincinnati began the game with its standard lineup, before substituting freely in the fifth. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez was the only Pirates' regular in the starting lineup.
"I didn't want them to be off a full two days," said Reds manager Dusty Baker prior to the game. "I also didn't think it was fair to the fans coming to the game to not see these guys play, at least for a while. They won't play long."
Cincinnati, considered by many to be the favorite to win the NL Central, finished third behind St. Louis and Pittsburgh, and now heads to the postseason on a five-game losing streak.
"We've been beat up pretty good all week," said Baker. "What I'm hearing around here is that we've lost already. This isn't the way I wanted to get in, but how many teams are in? Five? We are one of them."
The most encouraging aspect of Sunday's win for the Pirates was the performance of right-hander Brandon Cumpton (2-1), who made his fifth career start and allowed just two hits through six innings. He walked one and struck out three.
"The biggest thing today was our pitching," Hurdle said. "(Cumpton) pitched well. He had a good mix of pitches. Any time you take the field, the objective is to win."
Mercer led off the second inning with the Pirates' second inside-the-park home run this season.
Reds right fielder Jay Bruce attempted to make a diving catch of Mercer's sinking liner, but the ball got by him and rolled to the wall. Mercer scored without a throw, putting the Pirates ahead, 2-0.
Mercer tripled in the fourth and scored on Josh Harrison's single, making the score 3-0.
Cincinnati starter Greg Reynolds (1-3) gave up three earned runs on seven hits in five innings.
Garrett Jones added a solo home run off Nick Christiani in the eighth inning, making the score 4-0. It was Jones' 15th home run this season.
"It's in the hands of the pitcher, whether you're struggling or not," Baker said. "Our starting staff's been our strongest part this season, but those guys got beat up this week."
Four runs was more than enough run support for Cumpton.
In the eighth, Corky Miller's two-run double off Jeanmar Gomez cut the Pirates' lead to 4-2.
But, Kyle Farnsworth allowed one hit in a scoreless ninth to earn his second save.
"I'm happy with where we're at," said Alvarez. "We have a lot yet to accomplish. We've been playing pretty good baseball lately. Hopefully we can keep it going."
NOTES: Mercer's inside-the-park home run was the second this month for the Pirates. The other one came from Alvarez on Sept. 13 against the Cubs. ... RHP Johnny Cueto said he's healthy and prepared to start Tuesday's National League Wild Card game. Mat Latos originally was slated to start but developed a sore arm. "I feel good. I feel normal, like I've felt pitching the whole year," said Cueto, who's been on the disabled list three times this season with a strained lat muscle. "This is a very meaningful game. I just need to go out and do my job." ... Reds 1B Joey Votto became the first Reds player to appear in all 162 games since Aaron Boone in 2002. ... Alvarez entered Sunday's game tied with Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt for the NL lead with 36 homers. ... Reds 2B Brandon Phillips, who left Saturday's game in the fifth inning after fouling a pitch off his left shin, was receiving treatment and should be ready for Tuesday. X-Rays were negative. ... Tuesday's wild-card game at PNC Park will begin at 8:07 p.m. EST.

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