That was perfect.
I don't even really know what else to say about this game. The big concern with the one game playoff is that no matter what you think the advantage that your favorite team might have, it's not guaranteed to bear itself out over such a short span. No matter how many times we all sat back and pointed to Liriano's numbers against lefties or at PNC, it only takes one lucky swing to spoil that. Every single time I thought about how electric the crowd at PNC would be for the lineups and the anthem and the team taking the field, there was a little voice that said, "But what if the Reds take a 3-0 lead early and Cueto comes out dealing? There's nothing quieter than a nervous crowd that's been silenced."
And then after all that nervous energy and worrying, it played out in the exact fashion that Pirates wanted it to. Liriano came out dealing with 95 mph cheese and a wicked slider. The Pirates got to Cueto in the second inning with home runs from Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin and they'd chased him early in the fourth inning. By the time the fourthe ended, it was 5-1 Pirates, Liriano was cruising, and all of the little things that were so concerning (Would Hurdle leave Liriano out on the mound for too long or misuse the bullpen? What if Bruce or Votto run into a ball? What if Liriano just runs out of gas?) all became moot points. Liriano went seven and only needed 90 pitches. He struck out five and got 13 groundouts. He made Joey Votto look like he'd never seen a baseball bat before. The Reds barely seemed to threaten him at any point.
The lineup was great, too. Marte, Walker, and McCutchen all had two hits at the top of the lineup (with Walker hitting a huge run-scoring double from the right side of the plate), Byrd homered in his first playoff at-bat, Russell Martin crushed two home runs, and the streaky Pirate lineup never had trouble finding hits.
I could keep going and going. The crowd at PNC was everything it should've been; every national writer commented on the atmosphere and the noise pre-game and after Byrd's home run, the whole park heckled Cueto into dropping the ball with Martin at the plate, just before his home run. The defense was excellent while the Reds booted a few balls in big situations.
I'll use that word again: perfect. When TBS showed the Sid Bream play around the eighth inning, I groaned at first and then I realized something: I might never have to see that clip again (note: we will have to see that clip again if the Pirates play the Braves in the NLCS, but then, the Pirates will be in the NLCS if that happens, so, OK). For the bulk of my life, the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates has been one of a terrible playoff loss, followed by an endless stretch of losing. The creeping fear for this game was that the Pirates would lose, that they'd fail to move into the real playoffs, that even 94 wins and a playoff berth wouldn't banish the ghosts in the room. This win changes that narrative permanently. This Pirate team didn't stop at 81 or 82 wins. They didn't stop when they clinched a playoff spot. Now, they've risen to the occasion in PNC Park's first playoff game in every way possible.
I keep saying that this game was perfect, and that makes me a little bit nervous. That's because it implies that this game exists in a vacuum independent of whatever comes next. That might be true in 21 more years, but for now, part of what makes this night perfect is that while it's clear that this Pirate team is enjoying every step forward, they're also obviously not content to make the playoffs and call it a season. What makes this night perfect is that it all unfolded like a dream, that the Pirates won their first playoff game in 21 years, and that now they've got more playoff games this weekend. What's perfect is the knowledge that everything went right tonight, and that things can still get better.