By Joe Kay
The Associated Press
Marlon Byrd had three hits and Pedro Alvarez hit a two-run homer high off the batter’s eye on Friday night, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates over the Cincinnati Reds 4-1 in a series that could decide the NL wild-card game host.
Both teams clinched postseason berths this week. Whoever wins the three-game series would be assured of hosting the one-game playoff on Tuesday night.
The St. Louis Cardinals clinched their first NL Central title in four years, beating the Chicago Cubs 7-0 Friday night
The Pirates knew the wild card was more likely, and they’re one win away from taking it to PNC Park.
Byrd and Alvarez provided all of the Pirates’ runs off Homer Bailey (11-12), who is struggling with his control heading into the postseason.
A.J. Burnett (10-11) handled the Reds’ slumping lineup, allowing Todd Frazier’s homer and five hits overall in eight innings.
Jason Grilli gave up a hit in the ninth while getting his 33rd save in 35 chances.
Cincinnati has lost three straight and scored one run in the last 22 innings.
The bruising, tight-as-could-be series has gone up and down the Ohio River all summer long with neither team able to get much advantage. The Pirates lead the series 9-8. Fourteen of the 17 games have been decided by three runs or less. Batters have been plunked 26 times during the season series, most in the majors this year.
It’s the biggest series between them since 1990, when the Reds beat Barry Bonds and the Pirates to reach the World Series, where they swept Oakland for their last title.
The Pirates got the early advantage in this decisive series by beating Bailey, who threw the first of his two no-hitters at PNC Park on Sept. 28 last year. Since then, he’s failed to beat the Pirates in four starts, going 0-3.
Control has been a problem lately.
He helped the Pirates load the bases in the third on a hit batter and a pair of walks, and Byrd – an August trade acquisition from the Mets – singled through the hole at shortstop for a 2-0 lead.
Byrd doubled off the top of the wall in center field to open the sixth, and Alvarez hit his 35th homer high off the batter’s eye for a 4-1 lead that ended Bailey’s outing. He gave up four runs, four hits, four walks, hit two batters and threw a wild pitch.
Burnett handled Cincinnati’s slumping lineup, retiring the last 10 batters he faced. Frazier hit his 19th homer off the screen on the left-field foul pole in the fourth, ending Cincinnati’s streak of 16 scoreless innings.
Joey Votto singled twice, surpassing Pete Rose’s club record of reaching base 311 times in a season.
Notes: The Reds wore their Los Rojos jerseys to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. ... Pirates manager Clint Hurdle will change his starting pitcher on Sunday if nothing’s at stake. RH Gerrit Cole (10-7) is scheduled to go against RH Johnny Cueto (5-2). Hurdle would keep Cole available as insurance for the wild-card game on Tuesday. ... Alvarez’s homer gave him 99 RBIs. ... Reds manager Dusty Baker doesn’t plan to use LH Tony Cingrani in relief during the series. Cingrani is recovering from his second bout of back spasms. ... Bronson Arroyo (14-11) starts today against Pittsburgh’s Charlie Morton (7-4). Morton has given up only one run in his last three starts at Great American Ball Park, throwing two complete games.