PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh is embracing the playoff-bound Pirates. Postseason merchandise flew off the shelves at the team’s store inside PNC Park on Tuesday, hours after the Pirates clinched their first playoff berth since 1992. The 2-1 victory over the Cubs was sweet validation for a fan base that hasn’t seen a winning season since George H.W. Bush was president. At a time of year when the city’s attention usually turns to the Steelers, the Pirates are the ones generating headlines. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin even sent a congratulatory message to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, urging Hurdle and the Pirates to ride their momentum all the way to the World Series.
Pittsburgh hasn’t won it all since 1979. After such a long drought, fans say they’re just trying to enjoy the ride. After 20 consecutive years of losing, the Pittsburgh Pirates clinched at least a National League wild card when they beat the Chicago Cubs and Washington lost to St. Louis. It will be Pittsburgh’s first trip to the postseason since Barry Bonds, Jim Leyland and Co. won three straight NL East titles from 1990-92. Bonds then left for San Francisco as a free agent, and the small-budget Pirates piled up two decades of losing records — the longest streak in the four major professional sports. Starling Marte hit a tiebreaking homer in the ninth inning, and the Pirates threw out a runner at the plate for the final out.
Cueto’s return gives Reds their ace for playoffs
CINCINNATI — Johnny Cueto has looked good in his two starts since returning from the disabled list, giving the Cincinnati Reds back their ace in time for the playoffs. The question now is how they use him. They also have that question about speedy Billy Hamilton, who has made a big impact on games by going 13 for 13 in steals since his promotion. Manager Dusty Baker said on Tuesday that the Reds haven’t made decisions on either player for the playoffs. It’s clear Baker likes having Cueto because of his experience and ability to dominate a lineup. There are several factors in the decision on Hamilton, including whether the Reds think he is ready to do more than just steal against top pitchers. No champagne. No curtain call in front of joyous fans. No celebrating at all, really. The Cincinnati Reds clinched a playoff spot with hardly any notice. If anything, they were a little bummed out. Shin-Soo Choo drove in the winning run with a single off the left-center field wall in the 10th inning, and the Reds secured their third playoff spot in four years shortly after beating the New York Mets. Eight minutes later, St. Louis Cardinals beat Washington, clinching an NL wild card for Pittsburgh. Bummer.The Reds were pulling for first-place St. Louis to lose. Instead, the Cardinals retained their two-game lead over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the NL Central.
Indians’ Masterson to return in relief role
CLEVELAND — Indians All-Star starter Justin Masterson will return from an injury and pitch in relief during the team’s playoff push. With Cleveland fighting for a postseason spot, Masterson, sidelined with a strained oblique muscle since Sept. 2, will join Cleveland’s bullpen. Manager Terry Francona said the right-hander could appear in a game as early as Wednesday. The Indians have managed to stay in the playoff chase without their ace, who is looking forward to coming back and helping in any way he can.
Masterson pitched a simulated game on Sunday, the final hurdle before he could be cleared to return.
While Masterson would love to start again this season, Francona indicated the only way that will happen is if the Indians play deep into October.
Good news for Orioles: Machado didn’t tear ACL
BALTIMORE — Orioles third baseman Manny Machado got some good news: He has a torn ligament in his left knee and could be running again six to eight weeks because his ACL and MCL ligaments are fine.
An MRI on Tuesday revealed Machado has a torn medial patellofemoral ligament. The Orioles hope he can recover without having surgery.
The injury occurred Monday during Baltimore’s game at Tampa Bay. Machado was running out a single and stepped awkwardly on the inside of the base. He tumbled to the ground and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher.
The Orioles feared Machado tore his ACL, which would have kept him sidelined into the 2014 season.
Machado had played in every game this season and was an integral part of team’s success.
Masterson is 14-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 29 starts.