Chicago, IL – Starling Marte homered in the top of the ninth inning, and the Pittsburgh Pirates used timely defense in the bottom half to claim a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs in the first edition of a three-game series from Wrigley Field.
Marte's blast reached the bleachers in left with two down, and the Bucs survived an interesting home portion to pick up the win.
Anthony Rizzo grounded out against Tony Watson to begin the bottom of the ninth, then Jason Grilli came on but walked Dioner Navarro, though pinch runner Logan Watkins was erased on a fielder's choice grounder from Nate Schierholtz. Ryan Sweeney then rolled a hit through the right side, and when Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen couldn't pick up the ball, Schierholtz -- who was in line to reach third easily -- decided to try and score.
The relay throw was cut off at the mound by first baseman Justin Morneau, who threw to Russell Martin in time for the game-ending tag at the plate.
The Pirates gathered on the infield in celebration, knowing a playoff berth was near. It was clinched minutes later, when the Cardinals topped Washington, 4-3.
Pittsburgh will experience its first meaningful October baseball since the last of three straight NL East titles in 1992.
"The fans in Pittsburgh have been waiting a long time for the baseball team to come back and play winning baseball," said Pirates second baseman Neil Walker. "I've been a part of this organization since 2004, I've seen a lot of players, seen a lot of up, seen a lot of downs, but we knew we had a special group here."
Mark Melancon (3-2) gave up the tying run on a Donnie Murphy base hit in the eighth, but was credited with the win. Grilli earned his 32nd save.
Kevin Gregg (2-6) struck out three for Chicago in the final frame, but served up the deciding homer in defeat.
Cubs hurler Jeff Samardzija's only mistake was leaving a pitch over the plate to Walker in the first inning that resulted in a solo home run. The former Notre Dame football player ended up allowing just four more hits, while fanning seven and walking four over six innings.
"I was happy with how the day went," said Samardzija. "Even with the walks, we talk about it everytime it seems like every start, but those walks today were with first base open or with the pitcher coming up."
Bucs starter Charlie Morton tossed seven scoreless frames of three-hit ball with five strikeouts and one walk.
Chicago finally responded in the home eighth. Brian Bogusevic hit a leadoff single, moved up on a groundout, then went to third on a wild pitch before scoring when pinch-hitter Murphy singled through the left side against a drawn-in infield.
With the Pirates' postseason entrance, only the Kansas City Royals (1985) and Toronto Blue Jays (1993) remain as the lone franchises not to make the playoffs since the dawn of the wild card era in 1995 ... Pittsburgh has taken 11 of 17 meetings with the Cubs this season, including four of seven on the North Side of Chicago.