video thumbnail

STL@PIT Gm4: Wacha, Morton tabbed for crucial Game 4

First, the discussion was about 1992 and reaching the postseason again. Now, it's about 1979, the last time the Pirates won a series in October.

The 2013 Pirates are one win away from that elusive champagne shower, but their National League Central rivals, the Cardinals, certainly will have something to say about when -- or if -- that celebration some 34 years in the making will take place at PNC Park on Monday.

When the two teams hit the field at 3 p.m. ET on TBS, the Bucs will hand the ball to right-hander Charlie Morton in Game 4 of the NL Division Series, pitting him against Cards rookie Michael Wacha, whose last outing in the season's final week came an eyelash away from a no-hitter.

The Pirates lost in the NL Championship Series three straight years, from 1990-92, so it has been since the "We Are Family" club of '79 World Series fame that Pittsburgh has come out ahead in a postseason series. That opportunity awaits the Bucs on Monday before what is guaranteed to be a boisterous crowd at their home park.

"We're talking about playoff baseball," said Pirates second baseman and Pittsburgh native Neil Walker. "We want any chance to advance, no matter where it's at. Yeah, in front of hometown fans would be pretty special. But we're just trying to find a way to win one more game, anywhere."

The historical significance of clinching a berth in the NLCS isn't lost on Bucs manager Clint Hurdle, but he continues to steer the Pirates' ship with an eye on the battle at hand.

"You have to continue to earn your way here, especially late in the postseason -- not much is given to you," Hurdle said after Pittsburgh's dramatic 5-3 victory in Game 3. "We'll have an opportunity to go out at home and win a ballgame. Obviously if that happens, we'll be in a much better place moving forward."

In this case, history is on the Bucs' side. Teams that have taken a 2-1 lead into Game 4 of a Division Series have advanced to the League Championship Series round 35 times in 43 opportunities, 17 of 20 in the NLDS. Among the three teams that came back from a 2-1 deficit in the NLDS: the 2011 Cardinals, who bounced back against the Phillies, winning Game 4 at home before taking the series on the road. And the Cards, resilient all year, figure to bring all they have to the table Monday.

"It's a must-win [game] for us," said Carlos Beltran, who continued his postseason mastery Sunday. "Hopefully we can come here, take care of business, win and go play the last game at home."

Much like in Game 3 or any postseason meeting, the focus will be on the starters taking the mound, who figure to set the tone for the game. In the case of Morton, it will be a matter of putting his work against the Cardinals in the regular season behind him. The 29-year-old right-hander had two of his worst outings of the season against the Cards and wound up going 0-2 with a 7.90 ERA in three outings vs. St. Louis.

"There are things that I'm going to take from it and I'm going to learn from," said Morton, "but I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel because I had a couple of bad games against them."

As for Wacha, it will be a span of 12 days since his last start, but he sure has a gem to build from as he takes his first postseason assignment. An infield single by the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman with two outs in the ninth is all that stood between the 22-year-old rookie and history.

Nearly pitching a no-hitter almost two weeks ago might or might not carry over to Monday's game, but it's a good place to start.

"There's always stuff you can work on, and so I think you just take the positives from the last game and just move forward from there," Wacha said.

For the Cardinals to move forward, Wacha and his teammates will need to bring be on top of their game Monday night. Otherwise, the champagne will be flowing in Pittsburgh for the first time since Willie Stargell and the boys made some history of their own.

Cardinals: Shortstop a spot to watch
Pete Kozma got his first start of the NLDS on Sunday, and it's safe to say he was in the center of the action -- uncorking a throwing error in the first inning that led to a pair of Pirates runs, then delivering a pair of hits and a walk to help the Cards get back into the game.

With right-hander Morton on the mound, the Cardinals could go back to left-handed hitting Daniel Descalso at shortstop. But he's hitless in the series, going 0-for-8 thus far. Descalso also hasn't faced Morton before, whereas Kozma is 2-for-6 against him.

One likely change in St. Louis' lineup is that young first baseman Matt Adams figures to step back into the cleanup role after batting sixth Sunday. He had a clutch hit in the ninth inning and is 4-for-11 with a double in the series.

• Beltran continued his climb up the postseason charts Sunday, passing Babe Ruth with his 16th postseason homer, putting him in sole possession of eighth place on the all-time list. He drove in three runs, giving him 20 in 16 career Division Series games.

Pirates: Shark Tank ready for more
The Bucs' vaunted bullpen wasn't perfect in Game 3, but it got the job done, ultimately. Now there's potentially another job at hand.

Mark Melancon gave up Beltran's game-tying homer but then claimed his first postseason win when the Pirates rallied in the bottom of the eighth, and Jason Grilli overcame Adams' single to close out the victory. Grilli could be in position to throw the final pitch of a clinching win Monday night.

"This is why I signed back here [in 2012]," he said. "I saw the potential of what this team was in the process of doing, the winning ways. I wanted to be with a winning team."

Said Melancon: "It'd be nice to put this series behind us."

• Andrew McCutchen reached base safely in all four of his plate appearances Sunday, going 2-for-2 with a pair of walks, and has gone 7-for-13 in the series.

Worth noting
• Marlon Byrd, who went 1,250 regular-season games before playing in the postseason, has five RBIs through four postseason games.

• Beltran's homer was the first long ball hit by the Cardinals in Pittsburgh this season after zero in 10 regular-season games.

• The Pirates are now 22-23 at home all-time during the postseason, counting all games at the four venues they've hosted October games.

• If there is a Game 5, it is currently scheduled for 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday. It would move to 8 p.m. ET if the Dodgers-Braves series has concluded by then. Comments