CINCINNATI — Marlon Byrd had three hits and Pedro Alvarez hit a two-run homer high off the batter’s eye on Friday night, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates over the Cincinnati Reds 4-1 in a series that could decide the NL wild-card game host.
Both teams clinched postseason berths this week. Whoever wins the three-game series would be assured of hosting the one-game playoff on Tuesday night.
The Pirates still had a long-shot chance of overtaking St. Louis for the NL Central title. They need to sweep in Cincinnati while the Cardinals lose three at home to the Cubs over the weekend.
The Pirates knew the wild card was more likely, and they’re one win away from taking it to PNC Park.
Byrd and Alvarez provided all of the Pirates’ runs off Homer Bailey (11-12), who is struggling with his control heading into the postseason. A.J. Burnett (10-11) handled the Reds’ slumping lineup, allowing Todd Frazier’s homer and five hits overall in eight innings. Jason Grilli gave up a hit in the ninth while getting his 33rd save in 35 chances.
Cincinnati has lost three straight and scored one run in the last 22 innings.
The bruising, tight-as-could-be series has gone up and down the Ohio River all summer long with neither team able to get much advantage. The Pirates lead the series 9-8. Fourteen of the 17 games have been decided by three runs or less. Batters have been plunked 26 times during the season series, most in the majors this year.
It’s the biggest series between them since 1990, when the Reds beat Barry Bonds and the Pirates to reach the World Series, where they swept Oakland for their last title.
The Pirates got the early advantage in this decisive series by beating Bailey, who threw the first of his two no-hitters at PNC Park on Sept. 28 last year. Since then, he’s failed to beat the Pirates in four starts, going 0-3.
Braves 1, Phillies 0
ATLANTA — Chris Johnson led off the eighth inning with a homer to spoil an otherwise dominant start by Cliff Lee, Kris Medlen allowed only two hits in eight innings and the Atlanta Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies.
Medlen and closer Craig Kimbrel combined on the shutout.
Johnson’s homer to left field snapped a streak of 16 consecutive batters retired by Lee, who allowed only three hits with no walks and 13 strikeouts in eight innings.
Medlen (15-12) strengthened his case to be the Braves’ Game 1 starter in the NL division series next week. He allowed two hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. He has won five straight decisions.
Kimbrel pitched a perfect ninth for his 50th save.
Lee (14-8) completed a strong September finish despite the loss. He was 3-2 in five starts in which he had 54 strikeouts with only one walk.
Brewers 4, Mets 2
NEW YORK — Norichika Aoki hit a leadoff homer, Khris Davis connected three batters later and Yovani Gallardo pitched the Milwaukee Brewers to a victory over the New York Mets.
Martin Maldonado also homered and Gallardo (12-10) went six innings to end his inconsistent season with a win. The right-hander, who won 33 games over the previous two years, finished 4-1 in eight starts since returning from a strained left hamstring.
The fourth-place Brewers are closing strong, too. They have won three straight and five of six, giving them nine victories in their last 10 road games against New York.
The punchless Mets played without All-Star third baseman David Wright, who sat out with a sore right thumb, and lost 4-2 to Milwaukee for the second consecutive night.
Jim Henderson pitched a perfect ninth for his 28th save in 32 tries.