For the Reds to beat the Pirates in their sudden death National League Wild Card Game on Tuesday at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, they'll need solid pitching, productive at bats, tight defense ... and a short memory.
The Bucs closed out their first winning season since 1992 with a flourish during the last weekend of the regular season, sweeping Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park to earn home-field advantage against the Reds. The game will be televised by TBS, with first pitch scheduled for 8:07 p.m ET.
Before the final regular-season series began, Reds reliever Sam LeCure expressed the hope that his team could get into the heads of the team they'd meet two days later with a trip to the NL Division Series on the line.
"We need to play well against the Pirates," LeCure said. "Not only so we can secure home field for that Wild Card Game. We also want them to question whether they are able to beat us."
Instead, Pittsburgh outscored Cincinnati, 16-6, during the sweep. But the Reds can still take comfort in the knowledge that none of that will matter when they take the field Tuesday night, along with the reality that it's not easy for one Major League team to beat another in four straight games.
How much advantage the home field is in the postseason may be debatable, but the numbers skew toward the Pirates in this case. Pittsburgh won 50 games at home. Cincinnati won 41 on the road.
"The important part to me is getting these guys home and playing in a park where they won 50 games, and giving our fans postseason baseball," said Bucs manager Clint Hurdle. "That's significant."
This will be the first playoff game in Pittsburgh since Game 5 of the 1992 NL Championship Series.
Even more striking are the splits for Pirates starter Francisco Liriano. He was 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA at PNC Park this season compared to 8-7 with a 4.33 ERA on the road and 0-2 with a 6.10 ERA in Cincinnati.
The Reds will counter with Johnny Cueto. He was scheduled to start Sunday but once Pittsburgh won on Saturday, eliminating the chance Cincinnati could host Tuesday night's game, he was pushed back to the win-or-go-home meeting. Cueto had an injury-plagued season, with three stints on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle.
"I feel normal," Cueto told reporters through an interpreter. "I feel back to like I've been pitching the whole year like my career has been."
Cueto made two starts against the Pirates at PNC Park this season and was 1-0 with an 0.73 ERA while allowing just three hits in 12 1/3 innings.
Reds: Baker convinced team can bounce back
Cincinnati finished the regular season with a five-game losing streak, matching its longest of the year. Obviously, that's not how any team wants to go into the postseason, especially facing a single-elimination game.
"You have to block it out," said manager Dusty Baker. "It's a situation where it's a new season. What you did previously doesn't matter. What you didn't do previously doesn't matter. Now you start the season all over."
Baker shook his head when asked how difficult it would be for his players to flip the switch.
"It's not flipping a switch. It ain't that easy," Baker said. "It's not about flipping a switch. It's about staying after it and staying after it. You know, perseverance is the key. That's the whole thing. You persevere and then you'll be successful.
"A lot of times you'll be down and out. The next thing you know -- boom! -- for no particular reason, things start going your way. I'm very confident these guys will rebound."
Pirates: Byrd excited to be part of memorable run
Pirates general manager Neil Huntington made two down-the-stretch acquisitions to bolster the lineup, getting outfielder Marlon Byrd from the Mets and Justin Morneau from the Twins.
Byrd, for one, quickly sensed how much making the playoffs means to the region.
"It'll be electric," Byrd said of the Wild Card Game at PNC Park. "The city, its sports fans. They love their sports. They've had the Steelers and the Penguins and have been waiting for their Pirates. And here we come.
"We wanted to make sure we're able to bring it back to Pittsburgh. One game. Now it's time to get it done."
In 30 games for the Pirates, Byrd batted .318 with nine doubles, three homers and 17 RBIs.
• There were 28 hit batters in Reds-Pirates games this year, the most of any two teams in the Majors. So the umpires are sure to be paying extra attention considering the recent history between these clubs.
• After peaking at 70-44 after beating the Marlins on Aug. 8, the Pirates played .500 baseball (24-24) the rest of the way. However, the Bucs finished on a strong note by winning five of their last six.
• The Wild Card matchup between Cueto and Liriano is just the third in postseason history between two starting pitchers from the Dominican Republic. In both 1999 and 2004, Pedro Martinez faced off against Bartolo Colon.
"I want to tell my people in the Dominican Republic to follow this game," Cueto said. "There are two Dominicans on the mound. I want to give advice to all the youth in the Dominican that you have to work hard and continue working hard to do things like this."
• The overall season series was pretty even. Pittsburgh won 11 of 19 games, including five of nine at PNC Park.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.