Pittsburgh’s return to playoffs is successful with victory over Reds in NL wild card game

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The Reds proved no match. Joey Votto went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. Jay Bruce produced an RBI single in the fourth but Cincinnati never really threatened on a night baseball officially returned to Pittsburgh after a 20-year trek through purgatory.

Shin-Soo Choo homered in the eighth, a drive to right field that was upheld by video review.

Pittsburgh’s 94-win regular season reignited a relationship sullied by years of mismanagement and miserable play. When the gates opened two hours before the first pitch, fans — most of them dressed in black at the urging of MVP candidate McCutchen — sprinted to their seats in anticipation of the club’s first postseason game since Atlanta’s Sid Bream slid into home ahead of Barry Bonds’ throw in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the 1992 National League championship series.

The victory sent the Braves to the World Series and the Pirates into an abyss it took an entire generation to escape.

The first step came with victory No. 82 on Sept. 9. The next came two weeks later when a win over the Chicago Cubs assured a wild-card spot. The most thrilling yet lifted the team with the 26th-highest payroll in the majors ($73.6 million) into a showdown with baseball royalty.

The Reds, meanwhile, head into an offseason that could be eventful. Baker has led Cincinnati to the playoffs in three of the last four years but the Reds failed to advance each time. They fell to the San Francisco Giants in five games — after leading 2-0 — in the division series in 2012 and were swept in the same round by Philadelphia in 2010.

This time, they didn’t even make it that far. Cincinnati spent most of the season as the third team in a three-way race with the Pirates and the Cardinals for the NL Central title.

Cueto, who made three different trips to the disabled list this season with a strained lat, was pressed into service when projected starter Mat Latos discovered bone chips in his right (throwing) elbow.

At the time, it seemed like an upgrade. It wasn’t. The Pirates made it 3-0 on sacrifice fly in the third by Pedro Alvarez and Cueto was pulled when Starling Marte doubled with one out in the fourth. Marte sprinted home on local boy Neil Walker’s double off reliever Sean Marshall and Walker scored on a fielder’s choice by Byrd to make it 5-1.

When Martin hit a drive to left off Logan Ondrusek in the seventh, the party seemingly unthinkable for a team that lost 105 games in 2010 began. Martin’s long ball marked only the second multihomer playoff game in team history. Bob Robertson hit three in Game 2 of the 1971 NLCS.

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