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The young Pirates are playing spoiler in the NL Wild Card race

The emotions were on high as the Pirates took on the Reds at Great American Ball Park on Friday night.

Pittsburgh went into the night with a 72-81 record and was virtually out of the National League wildcard race with nine games to go. The Reds, on the other hand, began Friday’s festivities with a 79-75 mark and couldn’t have been more in the mix for one of the final two wildcard seeds.

Cincinnati sported an all-black uniform with a nifty-looking “Cincy” stitched into the front of its home jerseys. The Reds’ fans were plentiful and jacked.

It really was a playoff-like atmosphere in Cincinnati, and the young Buccos seemed to revel in it. Pittsburgh won an exciting, back-and-forth affair by a score of 7-5, and the Reds went to bed facing a 1.5 game deficit in the wildcard standings.

The Pirates belted four home runs on the evening–including solo shots from Ke’Bryan Hayes, Jared Triolo, Henry Davis and Endy Rodriguez.

The lead changed hands multiple times, with the Reds and their fans ratcheting up the celebrations every step of the way. But it was Pittsburgh who got the last laugh, as closer David Bednar escaped a ninth-inning rally by the Reds that included some shaky infield defense to notch his 37th save and the Pirates’ 73rd win on the 2023 regular season.

The Pirates arrived in Cincinnati after taking two of three from the Cubs at Wrigley Field during the week. Just like with the Big Red Machine, every game matters for the Cubs, who woke up on Saturday morning with a one-game lead for the sixth seed in the National League and one game back of the fifth seed.

Cubs manager David Ross knows this full well, which was likely why he had some scathing things to say to the media after losing a critical series to Pittsburgh: “That’s not a good team that just took 2 out of 3 from us,” said Ross courtesy of a Tweet from ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. “Or not our caliber of team I believe. We have to turn it around. It’s on me. It’s on the guys in the room.”

Shots fired!

Or, to quote Pirates play-by-play man Greg Brown whenever one of the Buccos hits a home run: “Clear the deck! Cannonball comin’!”

But it was the Pirates, specifically the young Pirates, who were still standing after firing the last bullet (or cannonball) at Wrigley. It remains to be seen if losing that series will prove to be a fatal blow for both Ross and Chicago, but the Cubs skipper certainly provided some nice bulletin board material for the Pirates the next time they take on their hated Central Division rivals.

That won’t happen again until 2024.

In the meantime, the Pirates still have some unfinished spoiler business to take care of in the National League wildcard race. After closing out the weekend series in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh heads to Philadelphia for a three-game series against a Phillies squad that has all but wrapped up the top wildcard spot in the National League.

The Pirates conclude their 2023 regular-season campaign at home with a three-game series at PNC Park vs. a Marlins team that is currently a game back in the wildcard standings with a week to go.

Just how much more spoiling the Pirates will do remains a mystery, but their young roster will surely gain some valuable experience while playing some intense, playoff-like baseball to close out the season.

Maybe the Pirates will find themselves in the same position as the Reds, Cubs and Marlins this time next year.

Perhaps then, we might find out that they truly are the caliber of team that deserves to win late-season baseball games with the playoffs on the line.

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