Cincinnati, OH – The Pirates are one step closer to bringing the NL wild card game to Pittsburgh after A.J. Burnett quieted the Cincinnati Reds and pitched his club to a 4-1 victory on Friday.
The St. Louis Cardinals wrapped up the NL Central Friday night, meaning the winner of this weekend's season-ending series between the division rivals will host Tuesday's single-game playoff.
Burnett (10-11) did his part with eight stellar innings of one-run ball. The right-hander, whose lone blemish came on Todd Frazier's home run in the fourth inning, scattered five hits and one walk while striking out six.
Pedro Alvarez smashed a mammoth two-run homer and Marlon Byrd recorded a two- run single for the Pirates, who lead the playoff-bound Reds by two games with two to play, but still have to win one more to secure hosting duties.
Cincinnati only trails the season series by one, 9-8, and would in effect secure the tiebreaker with wins in the next two games. Bronson Arroyo gets the call Saturday afternoon opposite Charlie Morton.
"This team knows how to come back," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of his bunch. "We just have to get these last two in the series."
Arroyo will try for a better fate than Homer Bailey (11-12), who was tagged for four runs on four hits and four walks in five-plus innings of work.
The highlight for the Reds, other than Frazier's homer, came when Joey Votto singled to lead off the ninth inning. It was the 312th time the All-Star first baseman reached base this season, surpassing the hallowed franchise mark set by Pete Rose in 1969.
After Votto's hit, however, Jason Grilli induced a double-play ball off the bat of Brandon Phillips, then retired Jay Bruce to post his 33rd save of the season and third since coming off the disabled list.
The Pirates, winners in three of their last four, loaded the bases in the third without swinging the bat. Starling Marte was hit by a pitch and Andrew McCutchen and Justin Morneau each walked before Byrd singled past a diving Zack Cozart to bring in a pair.
Frazier gave the home fans something to cheer about with a screaming line drive that caught the left-field foul pole, but the momentum only lasted until Alvarez muscled one even further in the sixth.
Byrd nearly homered prior to Alvarez's no-doubter, but his drive to deep left- center caromed off the corner of the out-of-town scoreboard. Byrd settled for a double, then trotted home when Alvarez completely annihilated a 1-2 fastball to straightaway center -- an estimated 443 feet from home plate.
"It was huge to get separation," Alvarez said. "You can never have too much breathing room against these guys."
Bailey knew it was gone as soon as it left Alvarez's bat, and it wound up being the last pitch he threw. Three relievers behind him did not allow a run, but Burnett mowed down the final 10 batters he faced to end any chance of a Reds comeback.
The Reds have lost three straight for the first time this month ... Alvarez's 35 home runs set a franchise record for third basemen. He sits one behind Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt for the NL lead ... Byrd had three of Pittsburgh's six hits ... Burnett reached double-digit wins for the ninth straight year .... Bailey set a career high with 209 innings pitched, but fell one strikeout shy of reaching the 200-plateau. Only 10 Reds pitchers have accomplished the feat.