By ANDREW SELIGMAN
AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO — The Pittsburgh Pirates are headed to the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, clinching at least a National League wild card Monday night when they beat the Chicago Cubs 2-1 and the Washington Nationals lost to St. Louis.
It will be Pittsburgh’s first trip to the postseason since Barry Bonds, Jim Leyland and Co. won three straight NL East titles from 1990-92. Bonds then left for San Francisco as a free agent, and the small-budget Pirates piled up 20 consecutive losing records — the longest streak in the four major professional sports.
“Even though I didn’t lose for the last 20 years, they make you feel like you are. You feel like you lost those 20 years,” Andrew McCutchen said. “That’s all you hear. You hear it every single day — ‘When’s it going to change? You think this is the year?’ You get sick and tired of hearing that. It’s awesome that there won’t be any questions anymore. The question is are we going to be able to go farther.”
Starling Marte hit a tiebreaking homer in the ninth inning at Wrigley Field, and the Pirates threw out a runner at the plate for the final out.
The Pirates sprayed each other with champagne and beer and sparking cider in the visitors’ clubhouse once St. Louis’ 4-3 win over the Nationals became final.
The Cincinnati Reds also clinched at least a wild-card berth, when they beat the New York Mets 3-2 in 10 innings. The Pirates and Reds, both 90-67, trail St. Louis by two games in the NL Central with five to go.
Pittsburgh players sang Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Players chanted “MVP! MVP!” while dousing McCutchen. They took pictures and manager Clint Hurdle had them gather for a group photo in the middle of the cramped visitors’ clubhouse.
“The people of Pittsburgh have been waiting a long time,” said Neil Walker, who homered.
The Pirates snapped a 1-all tie when Marte sent a drive off Kevin Gregg (2-6) with two outs in the ninth into the left field bleachers.
In a fitting coincidence, they preserved the victory on the final out in a play at the plate.
McCutchen, the center fielder, picked up Ryan Sweeney’s bloop single after the ball hit off right fielder Marlon Byrd’s glove and threw to first baseman Justin Morneau, positioned just in front of home plate. Morneau made the relay to catcher Russell Martin, who applied the tag on Nate Schierholtz. Schierholtz had tried to score from first base.
Still on his knees, Martin held the ball over his head in jubilation.
The Pirates’ last trip to the playoffs ended with Atlanta’s Sid Bream sliding home with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1992 NL championship series.
Jason Grili grabbed Martin, having escaped with his 32nd save in 34 chances.
“Twenty-one years since we popped champagne in a Pirates — and we’re acting like it’s been a long time,” Hurdle said. “The hard work, the fun. I’m just proud of each and every man in here, the fans they represent, ownership, general manager, president … the scouts, players. This has been a group effort for a long time.”
The Cubs tied it in the eighth off Mark Melancon (3-2).
Marte’s 12th homer set off loud boos for Gregg (2-6), who was almost released last week after going on a rant to reporters when he thought he had lost the closer’s job to Pedro Strop.
Walker homered against Jeff Samardzija in the first to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead, and Charlie Morton pitched three-hit ball over seven scoreless innings before the Cubs tied it against Melancon.
REDS 3, METS 2 (10)
CINCINNATI — Shin-Soo Choo drove in the winning run with a single off the wall in the 10th inning, and Cincinnati secured a playoff spot after beating New York.
The second-place Reds clinched at least an NL wild card when Washington lost to St. Louis. Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said there would be no celebration yet, not with a second straight NL Central title still in play.
Greg Burke (0-3) gave up a one-out single by Devin Mesoraco in the 10th, and Derrick Robinson singled him to third. Choo followed with his third hit of the game off left-hander Sean Henn.
Manny Parra (2-3) allowed one hit in the 10th.
CARDS 4, NATIONALS 3
ST. LOUIS — Carlos Beltran homered, Adam Wainwright earned his 18th win and St. Louis eliminated Washington from playoff contention.
Looking for their first NL Central title since 2009, the Cardinals maintained a two-game lead over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh with five to play.
All three teams are headed to the postseason. St. Louis secured no worse than a wild card on Sunday.
The Nationals won the NL East last season with 98 wins but were eliminated by St. Louis in the division series. One year later, they were knocked out by the Cardinals again.
Beltran’s two-run homer in the fifth off rookie Tanner Roark (7-1) broke a 2-all tie. It was Beltran’s team-leading 24th of the season and first since Aug. 24.
BREWERS 5, BRAVES 0
ATLANTA — Marco Estrada pitched two-hit ball for seven innings and Milwaukee belted three homers against Atlanta.
The NL East champion Braves are a half-game ahead of St. Louis for the best record in the National League.
MARLINS 4, PHILLIES 0
MIAMI — Nathan Eovaldi pitched into the eighth inning to help Miami blank Philadelphia.
Eovaldi (4-6) allowed three hits over 7 2-3 innings. He struck out five and walked two.
RAYS 5, ORIOLES 4
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Wil Myers tied it with a two-run single on a jarring play in the seventh inning then pinch-hitter James Loney stunned the Orioles with a leadoff homer in the ninth, and the Tampa Bay Rays completed a four-game sweep that put a serious damper in Baltimore’s wild-card hopes with a 5-4 victory.
The win pushed the Rays a full game ahead of idle Cleveland for the top AL wild card. Baltimore fell five games behind the Indians with six games to go for both teams.
Chris Davis hit his major league-best 52nd homer for Baltimore.
RANGERS 12, ASTROS 0
ARLINGTON, Texas — Alex Rios hit for the cycle and Derek Holland struck out nine in his second shutout of the season as Texas started its final push for a playoff spot.
The Rangers pulled within a game of idle Cleveland for the second AL wild-card berth with six games remaining.
Rios finished off the cycle with a triple to right-center field in the sixth inning, and later scored to put Texas up 11-0. He doubled in the first inning, had an infield single in the third and hit his 18th homer in the fourth.
The first cycle of Rios’ career was the seventh in Rangers’ history. Adrian Beltre was the last to do it, last Aug. 24 against Seattle.
TWINS 4, TIGERS 3 (11)
MINNEAPOLIS — Josmil Pinto hit an RBI single in the 11th inning and Minnesota overcame 12 strikeouts by Justin Verlander.
The Tigers led 3-0 in the eighth, but Jose Veras gave up RBI doubles to Eduardo Escobar and Ryan Doumit. Brian Dozier led off the ninth with a tying homer against previously perfect closer Joaquin Benoit.
Dozier opened the 11th with a single off Luke Putkonen (1-2) and advanced on a wild pitch. Pinto punched a single to right field to give manager Ron Gardenhire his 998th career victory.
Verlander gave up six hits and walked three in six shutout innings for the Tigers, whose magic number remained two for clinching the AL Central.
WHITE SOX 3, BLUE JAYS 2
CHICAGO — Jose Quintana pitched into the eighth inning and rookie Marcus Semien hit his first major league homer to lead Chicago.
Quintana (9-6), who entered the game with the most no-decisions in the American League at 17, allowed two runs and five hits in 7 1-3 innings. Addison Reed pitched the ninth inning to record his 39th save.
Toronto starter J.A. Happ (4-7) threw 110 pitches in his five innings, allowing three runs and eight hits.
In the second inning Semien hit an 0-2 pitch from Happ down the line and well over the fence for a 2-0 lead. Semien was called up on Sept. 4.
The Blue Jays cut the lead in half as catcher J.P. Arencibia led off the fifth inning with his 21st homer, but the White Sox got the run back in the bottom of the inning when Avisail Garcia led off with a homer to make it 3-1.
The Blue Jays closed the gap to 3-2 on a run-scoring single by Ryan Goins in the eighth.