Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pirates sweep Rangers in Arlington, reduce magic No. to 10 for playoff berth

Is it possible to finally let out a sigh of relief that the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates are officially out of the woods? Probably not, but they are nearing the part of the wilderness where they can probably see signs of civilization.

After getting swept in St. Louis over the weekend in a series that was barely competitive, the Pirates traveled to Arlington, Monday night, to begin a three-game interleague series against the Rangers that had most fans fearing the worst. And, once again, like I've said many times this season, who could really blame them?

Funny how things begin to turn around when you least expect them.

While the Bucs didn't dominate Texas, they did just enough in every game to walk away with a very impressive three game sweep over a team that came into the series in the same kind of divisional dogfight, but without the similar eight game cushion in the wild card race--the Rangers entered the day two games back of the A's for first place in the AL West and just four games up on Baltimore for the second wild card.

On Wednesday, A.J. Burnett took the mound and was dominate, early on, striking out six the first time through the Rangers' order and retiring the first 13 men he faced.

The Pirates offense gave Burnett a 4-0 cushion through 5 1/2 innings, but he began to struggle a bit in the bottom of the sixth, loading the bases with nobody out. Fortunately, he was able to induce a double-play and a fly out to end the inning.

After Pittsburgh added two more runs in the top of the seventh to make it 6-2, Burnett couldn't make it out of the bottom of the inning, as the Rangers scored three runs to make it a tight 6-5 game.

But shortstop Clint Barmes, who apparently had words with Burnett after Texas' two run sixth inning, added insurance with a solo blast in the top of the eighth for the game's final run, as the Pirates held out for a very satisfying 7-5 victory.

With the Nationals, the closest non-NL Central team in the wild card race, on a bit of a roll and winners of four straight, things could have gotten very shaky in a hurry for Pittsburgh, this week.

But now the Pirates will have no worse than an eight game lead over Washington with just 17 left in the season.

Perhaps, more importantly, Pittsburgh moves to within half a game of the Cardinals for first place in the Central, pending Wednesday night's action.

The Pirates reduced their magic number for a playof spot to 10 games and will be coming back home for their final homestand of the season.

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