Let's all exhale just a little bit.
After last night's debacle, the Pirates got a little bit of everything that they needed tonight. AJ Burnett came out tonight with a slider that should've been required by law to have a turn signal affixed to it. He spotted the Reds a 2-0 lead, then completely shut them down from innings 3-7. He racked up 12 strikeouts in total and he only allowed two base runners over his last five innings, which game the Pirates plenty of time to get back into the game. I don't know what I imagined for AJ Burnett's Pirate career when they picked him up just before spring training in 2012, but it's incredible how far the team has come from that point to one in which Burnett is racking up strikeouts in front of a sold-out PNC Park in a pivotal game during a playoff race. Seeing him leap off the mound and pump his fist after striking out Henry Rodriguez to end the sevneth inning was a chill-inducing moment.
Of course, Burnett needed help from the bats and he managed to get it tonight. Russell Martin tied the game at two in the second inning with his 15th home run, then the Pirates tacked two on in the bottom of the sixth when Andrew McCutchen walked, went to third on an errant pickoff throw, and scored on Marlon Byrd's sac fly. Justin Morneau sandwiched a walk in there, advanced to second on the sac fly, and scored on a Pedro Alvarez single. Four runs off of Homer Bailey at PNC Park is a rare occurance for the Pirates.
And the final thing that both the Pirates and Pirate fans needed tonight was a strong outing from the bullpen. Bryan Morris started the eighth and got a ground out, then was replaced by Justin Wilson after walking Brandon Phillips. Wilson got Joey Votto to bounce into an inning-ending double play. Jason Grili came on in the ninth to close out the win and after giving up a leadoff single to Ryan Ludwick, he got a double play of his own with Jay Bruce at the plate (I'm pretty sure I watched that whole at-bat with my hands over my eyes; I doubt I was alone). Two pitches later, Zack Cozart bounced out to Clint Barmes and that was it.
I know it's not easy, but let's just forget last night for a second. The Pirates have 89 wins now, and a one-game lead over the Reds. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is three. The Nationals and Marlins are still locked in a loooong rain delay in DC, but it seems like they're intent on trying to play at some point tonight. It's still not entirely out of the question that the Pirates can have a playoff spot locked up before they leave for Chicago tomorrow afternoon. The Cardinals won easily tonight, which maintains their two-game lead over the Pirates. The Pirates can do nothing now except for put this week's two ugly losses behind them and try to win the games in front of them. Doing that will ensure a wild card playoff game at PNC Park and not anywhere else, at the very least. They took a nice step in that direction tonight. There's still more baseball left to be played.