Pirates eye first postseason series win since 1979

10:22 AM, Oct 7, 2013   |    comments
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(SportsNetwork.com) - The atmosphere inside PNC Park has been incredible this postseason. It may get even crazier on Monday, as the Pirates try to win their first postseason series in 34 years when they play Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pittsburgh lost in the NL Championship Series three straight years from 1990-92 and hasn't advanced in a series since the "We Are Family" Pirates won the World Series in 1979.

"You have to continue to earn your way here, especially late in the postseason -- not much is given to you," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We'll have an opportunity to go out at home and win a ballgame. Obviously if that happens, we'll be in a much better place moving forward."

Pittsburgh grabbed the advantage in the best-of-five set on Sunday, as Pedro Alvarez hit a go-ahead RBI single in a two-run eighth inning to carry the Pirates to a 5-3 win.

Russell Martin also had an RBI single in the eighth after Carlos Beltran tied the game for the Cardinals with his second home run of the series in the top of the inning.

"Right now we're playing good baseball, pretty much like we have all year long," said Martin. "So ... the confidence level is high. And the stakes couldn't be any higher."

History appears to be on the side of the Pirates, as teams that have taken a 2-1 lead into Game 4 of a Division Series have advanced to the League Championship Series round 35 times in 43 opportunities, 17 of 20 in the NLDS.

Among the three teams that came back from a 2-1 deficit in the NLDS: the 2011 Cardinals, who bounced back against the Phillies, winning Game 4 at home before taking the series on the road.

"It's a must-win (game) for us," said Beltran, who continued his postseason prowess Sunday. "Hopefully we can come here, take care of business, win and go play the last game at home."

Beltran drove in all three runs on Sunday for the Cardinals and had tied the game in the eighth with a solo home run. Beltran now has 20 RBI in 16 Division Series games and his home run was his 16th in the postseason, moving him past Babe Ruth and putting him in sole possession of eighth place on the all-time list.

It will be right-hander Charlie Morton's job to slow him down on Monday. Morton worked his way back from Tommy John surgery to go 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA. However, he got better as the year went on and was 4-1 with a 2.67 ERA over his final 11 starts.

He also pitched to a 2.14 ERA over his last five starts at PNC.

"I've never seen him as confident as he's been this year," Hurdle said. "He's pitched extremely well from time to time, given us some good games. The confidence on the mound, standing on the rubber, is at a high for him."

Morton, though, struggled mightily against the Cards, going 0-2 with a 7.90 ERA in three starts. St. Louis has actually given him trouble his whole career, as he is just 2-9 against it with a 6.52 ERA in 14 starts.

"Anybody would like to believe that from failure, you take something," Morton said. "And I think that's true with anybody, whether it's a season or a span of starts or it's one start. So there are things that I'm going to take from it and I'm going to learn from, but I'm not going to try to reinvent the wheel because I had a couple of bad games against them.

St. Louis, meanwhile, will turn to rookie Michael Wacha, who pitched to a 1.72 ERA in five September starts and came within one out of a no-hitter in his final start back on Sept. 24.

"It's definitely been a crazy past year," Wacha said. "Whenever I came to Spring Training this past season, the goal was to get up here to St. Louis and help them win some ballgames. So I wouldn't really say whenever I was in college my junior year that I would ever have thought of this. But I just look at it as an opportunity to take advantage of. I'm really excited about being able to pitch in the postseason."

Wacha actually got the better of Morton back on Sept. 8 when he tossed seven scoreless innings to get the win.

Pittsburgh narrowly won the season series, 10-9.

St. Louis is 3-8 at PNC Park this year.

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