PITTSBURGH (AP) – The Pittsburgh Pirates went 98-64, the second-best record in the major leagues. Still, they needed a win on the final day of the regular season to clinch home field in the NL wild-card game.
They got that win behind J.A. Happ’s stellar effort and Pedro Alvarez’s long home run Sunday, 4-0 over the Cincinnati Reds.
The Pirates will host the Chicago Cubs (97-65) Wednesday in a winner-take-all playoff.
“We love playing at home,” said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, whose team went 53-28 at PNC Park. “Our guys love pitching at home. There’s opportunity for it to be a really good ballgame. I know our fans will show up and it will be loud and it will be proud. Our guys will be ready for it.”
The Pirates finished second to the St. Louis Cardinals (100-62) in the NL Central. Pittsburgh will host the wild-card game for the third straight year after beating Cincinnati in 2013 and losing to the San Francisco Giants last season.
The Pirates had 20 straight losing seasons, the longest streak in major North American professional sports history, before their current run of postseason appearances.
“We really don’t sit back and look at it too much, as a staff or as a team,” Hurdle said of the turnaround. “I always say that if you focus on being good long enough then you can turn out to be great and we’ve been able to put some good seasons together.”
The Reds, who snapped a 13-game losing streak on Saturday night, finished 64-98 and last in the Central. That is their most losses since 1937 when they went 56-98, and their first last-place finish since 1983.
“We’ve got to get ready for next year now,” Cincinnati All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Happ (11-8) pitched three-hit ball for six innings. He struck out seven and walked two while improving to 7-2 in 11 starts since being acquired July 31 from the Seattle Mariners.
“I didn’t have my best stuff but I just tried to execute pitches, move the ball up and down, in and out,” Happ said.
Joakim Soria, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon finished the six-hitter with one scoreless inning each.
Alvarez’s 479-foot leadoff home run to center field in the fourth inning, his team-high 27th, made it 2-0 after Josh Harrison doubled in the first and scored on Neil Walker’s single.
Harrison and Francisco Cervelli each had three of the Pirates’ 13 hits and Jordy Mercer had two.
Back-to-back doubles by Cervelli and Mercer in the sixth and Gregory Polanco and Harrison in the seventh padded the Pirates’ lead.
Harrison said the Pirates weren’t scoreboard watching to see how the Cubs were faring in their 3-1 win at Milwaukee.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to worry about ourselves and that’s what’s made us so good this season,” he said.
Rookie Josh Smith (0-4) remained winless in seven career starts as he gave up two runs and seven hits in four innings with four strikeouts and no walks. Rookies started each of the Reds’ last 64 games and 110 overall, both major league records.
Frazier had two hits.
RAMIREZ, BURNETT FETED
Pirates third baseman Aramis Ramirez and right-hander A.J. Burnett, who are both retiring at the end of the season, were honored in pregame ceremonies. Ramirez is finishing his 18th season and Burnett is a 17-year veteran.
The Pirates set a single-season attendance record for a second straight year with a total of 2,498,596, up 56,032 from last season, and an average of 30,847 a game.
Reds: Open the 2016 season against the Philadelphia Phlllies on April 4 at home. The Phillies (63-99) and Reds had the two worst records in the major leagues this year.
Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (19-9, 2.60 ERA in the regular season) will start the wild-card game and face RHP Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77).
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