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September 24, 2013

A home run by Starling Marte in the top of the ninth inning propelled the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 2-1 victory over the Cubs on Monday night in Chicago and into the Major League playoffs for the first time since 1992.

Pittsburgh’s Justin Morneau sealed the victory by throwing out the Cubs’ Nate Schierholtz on a relay toss to catcher Russell Martin at home plate for the final out of the game.

With the win and a 4-3 loss by Washington to St. Louis, the Pirates (90-67) assured themselves of at least a one-game wild card playoff in the National League.  Cincinnati also qualified for postseason play by edging the New York Mets 3-2 in a 10-inning game.  Pittsburgh is tied with the Reds, two games behind the Cardinals, in the NL Central Division.  Each team has five regular season games remaining.

Until the bottom of the eighth inning, the game’s only run had been scored on a first-inning homer by Neil Walker of the Pirates, Walker’s fourth home run in the last five games.  But in the eighth frame, Pittsburgh reliever Mark Melancon (3-2; 1.41 ERA) recorded his third consecutive blown save, and fifth of the season, by allowing two singles, separated by a ground ball out and a wild pitch.  Melancon would be credited with the win because of the Marte home run.  Jason Grilli recorded his 32nd save.

Pirates starter Charlie Morton was forced to settle with a no-decision  after pitching three-hit shutout ball for seven innings with five strikeouts and only one walk.  Chicago starter Jeff Samardzjia surrendered the Walker homer, allowed five hits over six innings, struck out seven hitters and walked four.  Cubs closer Kevin Gregg (2-6; 3.54 ERA) took the loss.

Both teams tallied six hits.  Only the Cubs’ Brian Bogusevic recorded two hits.

In the second game of the three-game series at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night, the Pirates are scheduled to start rookie Gerrit Cole (9-7; 3.23 ERA), while the Cubs (65-92) are expected to go with Chris Rusin (2-5; 3.52 ERA).

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