Look there are plenty of details from this game and there's wild card seeding and a borderline division race to be sorted out in the next six days, but the most important thing is this: the Pirates won, the Nationals lost, and the Pirates are going to the playoffs.
I'm going to write more about the game, I promise, but I just wanted to get this post published so that I could see what it looked like on WHYGAVS.
OK, deep breath. Game details in this post, playoff thoughts in another.
This was a weird game. Like, a really weird game. In successive innings (the sixth and seventh), the Pirates turned a 3-6 tag double play on some nifty Justin Morneau glovework and a 4-3-6 double play with Neil Walker catching Dioner Navarro between first and second, running him back to first, throwing to get Ryan Sweeny at first, and then Morneau catching Navarro on his way to second.
For seven innings, Charlie Morton mostly cruised (weird double plays aside) with the 1-0 lead that Neil Walker's first inning homer afforded him. He struck out five and walked one, scattering three hits to the wind. After seven the Pirates brought Mark Melancon out to hold down the 1-0 lead and I briefly allowed myself to think, "Morton could go eight, but this is nice; get Melancon out to pitch this inning and shore up the confidence in him after his rough week, then let Grilli nail down the save for a representative win at number 90." Of course, that didn't work. I'm still not sure if there's something wrong with Melancon or if hitters have adjusted to his cutter and rendered the defensive shifts null (which would, in effect, be something wrong with Melancon, even if he's not pitching all that differently, but now we're getting into the weeds here), but he's definitely looked slightly off in blowing three straight leads, even if it seems like opponents still aren't hitting the ball squarely against him. Regardless of details, the Cubs got a few hits and tied the game up against Melancon.
Of course, all blowing the save did was set the stage for Starling Marte. It's been hard to watch Marte struggle with his hand injury this month; he was a legitimately huge part of everything this team did through the middle of August, and the team rolling towards the playoffs while he struggles to deal with his hand injury has seemed supremely unfair. When Jose Tabata started over him tonight, I kind of thought that might be the final blow to his hopes of regaining his job and making the playoff roster. Marte replaced Tabata for defense in the seventh, though, and came up with two outs and no one on in a 1-1 game in the top of the eighth. Kevin Gregg threw him a hanging curveball, and Marte hammered into the left field bleachers at Wrigley. He knew it the second the ball hit the bat, too; he jumped and pumped his fist and dropped the bat. It just felt right for him to get such a big hit at such a big juncture.
But then, this is the Pirates trying to clinch their first playoff berth since 1992. Of course it couldn't be that easy. Tony Watson started the ninth, with Anthony Rizzo at the plate and Clint Hurdle acknowledging that matchups exist after the seventh inning for maybe the first time all year. Watson got Rizzo and came out in favor of Jason Grilli. Grilli promptly walked Navarro, got a broken bat fielder's choice from Nate Schierholtz, then gave up a single to Ryan Sweeney that Marlon Byrd misplayed, which caused Schierholtz to break for home. Andrew McCutchen anticipated that and chucked a throw in the general direction of home plate, and somehow Justin Morneau thought to get in position for the cutoff and shovel the ball the rest of the way home to Russell Martin for the final out.
Within ten minutes of that play, the Adam LaRoche popped out to seal the Cardinals 4-3 win over the Nationals. If we're being perfectly honest, I'd rather have a one-game division deficit and a magic number of one tonight than a clinched playoff spot and a deficit of two. This is not a perfect or an ideal universe, though, and so we'll all make do with what we have. The Pirates are going to the playoffs. There is plenty to worry about and there is plenty to do, but for at least tonight, let's all just bask in that.