DENVER — Three’s a trend. The Pirates rocked the Colorado Rockies, 13-7, Wednesday night at Coors Field to clinch a postseason berth on Sept. 23 for the third year in a row. And they did in style.
Neil Walker was 4 for 5 with a home run and a career-high six RBIs, and pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez drove in three insurance runs in a six-run ninth to secure the Pirates at least a spot in the National League wild-card game.
With their fifth win in a row, the Pirates (92-60) climbed to 32 games over .500 for the first time since 1992. They are one of three teams to reach the playoffs each of the past three seasons, and they now have reached the postseason in three consecutive seasons three times in franchise history — 1970-72, 1990-92 and 2013-15.
For the Pirates, there still is work to be done, but precious little time in which to do it. The St. Louis Cardinals won again to remain four games ahead of the Pirates and reduce their magic number for a third consecutive division crown to seven. The Pirates lead the Chicago Cubs by three games for the top wild-card spot and home-field advantage in the NL wild-card game.
Those are worries for another day.After right-hander Charlie Morton gave up 10 hits and six runs in 4⅓ innings, Joe Blanton, Joakim Soria, Tony Watson combined for 3⅔ perfect innings. Arquimedes Caminero carried the torch to the finish and allowed a run in the ninth.
Starling Marte, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer had three hits apiece, while Francisco Cervelli and Gregory Polanco each added two.After the game, the Pirates met in the visitors clubhouse for a brief, closed-door celebration. Unlike the previous two years, when clinching was feted with a champagne-drenched jamboree broadcast live on TV, players decided before the game they would recognize the playoff berth in private.
“There are a number of men here who have never experienced a [clinching] celebration,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Wednesday before the game. “I would never be one to take away from what we’ve accomplished. At the end of the day, anybody else’s thoughts on it really don’t appeal to me.
“We know how hard we work. We know what we’ve poured into this. We know what’ve committed to this. There’s a time for appropriate celebration, then we’ll move on, because we’ve all got bigger things in mind.”
The Pirates pulverized Rockies right-hander Christian Bergman, who gave up 10 hits and seven runs over just 3⅔ innings. They jumped to an early 5-0 lead thanks to Walker. He hit a two-out, two-run single in the first, then smoked a three-run, third-inning homer.
Marte handed Morton a seven-run cushion by dumping a two-out double into the left-field corner in the fourth. The Pirates have scored 11 runs with two outs in their past two games.
Two years ago, Morton threw seven innings of three-hit baseball against the Cubs to help clinch the Pirates’ first postseason trip in two decades. Satisfied and soaked, Morton stood in the cramped clubhouse at Wrigley Field and remarked, “It’s a great night.”
Morton was shakier Wednesday. Perhaps one could have forecasted his trouble. In three previous starts at Coors Field, Morton had a 5.51 ERA and allowed 27 baserunners in 16⅓ innings.
After setting down the first six hitters in order, Morton gave up two infield singles and Corey Dickerson’s RBI single in the third. In the fourth, he loaded the bases with no outs and walked in a run before pitching out of further trouble.
Dickerson led off the fifth with a solo shot into the Pirates bullpen beyond the right-center field fence, and with one out Tom Murphy skied a three-run blast to left, trimming the Pirates lead to 7-6. It was Murphy’s third homer this season, his second this series.
Rockies right-hander John Axford, a one-time Pirates reliever, entered in the ninth and set off the powder-keg Pirates offense. They sent 12 batters to the plate in the inning and scored six runs on seven hits and two walks, effectively ending any magic-number math.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.