I want you to take just one minute from your afternoon, and breathe in. Watch your hands shake. Feel the butterflies in your stomach. Look at the second hand on the clock and wonder if it really is possible for time to slow down or stop. Since we're still a few hours out from game time, fastforward in your mind to a packed PNC Park, full of Pirate fans in black shirts, laced with bunting. See Andrew McCutchen and his Pittsburgh Pirates run out onto the field while all of those fans lose their minds. Feel it in your chest, your stomach, your head, feel it your fingers and in your toes.
Drink this in. This night, tonight, this is what we've all been waiting for. We sat through years of bad losses and dumb baseball. The inexplicable draft picks, the terrible signings, the mystifying trades, the busted prospects, the befuddled management teams, all of it has been a prelude for this night. Think of all of the times that someone's asked you why you're a Pirate fan and laughed at you when you said, "Because I want to be there when they make the playoffs again," and know that what you're feeling right now at this very second is what you've been waiting for. Whatever happens in this game and whatever emotions this game brings, this electric feeling of anticipation and terror and pride and elation, this is the playoffs, and it's never going to feel the same as it does right now after such a long time away.
The truth of this game is that I have no idea what's going to happen. I've said that I think that Francisco Liriano on the mound at PNC Park puts the Pirates in a good position to win one game against the Reds, but single game playoffs are rarely dictated by anything like logic. As soon as Liriano throws the first pitch to Shin-Soo Choo, all bets are off. There are innumerable good things that could happen and innumerable bad things that could happen to the Pirates in this game. Some of them are predictable, but most of them are not.
In general, I would say that key for the Pirates against Cueto tonight may be to work the count as much as possible against him early on. His shoulder has kept him from working deep into games all year, and he's not really stretched out at all right now. As Dave Cameron points out at FanGraphs, the Pirates' lineup more or less demands that Dusty Baker play the matchup game with them as soon as Cueto comes out of the game, and if he makes it through five or six innings, that's probably what Baker will do. The difference between Sean Marshall and Zach Duke is pretty striking, though, and if the Pirates make Cueto throw a bunch of pitches, force him from the game early, and wisely manage their bench and pinch-hitters, it's possible that they could flip this in their favor.
Beyond that, I would tend to agree with Cameron in that this is likely to be a long game under pretty much all circumstances. It's likely to be long and stressful, with pitching changes and pinch hitters and completely emptied benches, and it'll probably still feel like it's over within seconds after the first pitch.
The first pitch of the playoffs is at 8:07 PM. Francisco Liriano will throw it. He is a Pittsburgh Pirate.