Walker's 6 RBIs send Bucs into postseason

Walker's 6 RBIs send Bucs into postseason

DENVER -- It took Pittsburgher Neil Walker three innings to accumulate five of his career-high six RBIs on Wednesday night against the Rockies, but he and the Pirates were forced to sweat for much of a 13-7 victory at Coors Field that secured their third straight postseason berth.

"One of the goals we set out in Spring Training was to make the playoffs," said Walker, who became the first Pirates player to knock in six runs in a game since Garrett Jones on Aug. 16, 2012. "Obviously we have higher expectations and goals. It's one of the steppingstones that we've hit so far."

Walker's two-run single in the first and his three-run homer in the third came off Rockies starter Christian Bergman (3-1), who gave up 10 hits and seven runs in 3 2/3 innings in his second start of the season and first since April 14. Starling Marte's fourth-inning double chased Bergman -- starting because Jorge De La Rosa will miss the rest of the season with a sore right Achilles tendon -- and gave the Pirates a 7-1 lead. Marte has nine hits and six RBIs over the first three games of the series.

Walker's three-run blast

Pirates starter Charlie Morton would need the run support, as Corey Dickerson's solo shot and Tom Murphy's three-run homer in the fifth chased Morton and pulled the Rockies within a run, 7-6. Pirates reliever Joe Blanton (4-0) quelled the rally and got the win, as both bullpens threw up zeros until the Rockies' John Axford coughed up Sean Rodriguez's three-run double with one out in the ninth, igniting a six-run rally that turned a tight game into a coronation, with Pirates faithful serenading their heroes with the "Let's Go, Bucs" chant.

The Pirates, who are assured of at least one of the National League Wild Card spots, have reached the postseason for a third straight year for the third time since the first World Series in 1903. They made the postseason from 1970-72 and 1990-92. Wednesday also marked the fourth time the Pirates have clinched a postseason berth on Sept. 23. They did so in 1925 as well as the last three seasons.

Pirates head back to October

In the clubhouse, the Pirates were appreciative but not giddy. After accepting the hearty chant from the fans, the players relaxed to tunes such as Lady Gaga's "Alejandro."

No plastic covered the lockers, because guys didn't go wild, spraying champagne and beer. Instead, champagne bottles rested in an elegant arrangement on a table just beyond the entrance to the players' quarters. Some bubbly had been poured into glasses that were placed in tidy formation, and the Pirates enjoyed an understated toast.

Pirates clinch postseason berth

"Act like you've been there before, and we have been," said Pirates center fielder and chieftain Andrew McCutchen. "We didn't want to go crazy because a couple years ago that was something we were happy where we were.

"We are happy where we are, but we know there's still some work to be done. And we're not done."

The Pirates hold a three-game edge on the Cubs for home-field advantage in a potential NL Wild Card Game, and they trail the Cardinals by four games in the NL Central race. St. Louis defeated Cincinnati on Wednesday, while Chicago lost to Milwaukee.

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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bucs pull away: The black-and-gold clad Pirates fans in attendance nervously pushed their way to the seats behind the dugout as the ninth inning began with the Bucs nursing a 7-6 lead. But their jitters turned into elation when, taking advantage of Axford's poor location, Rodriguez laced his bases-clearing double. Gregory Polanco's RBI double and run-scoring singles from Josh Harrison and Walker, all off Jason Gurka, completed a six-run inning and the rout.

Rodriguez's three-run double

More Marte: The Pirates clinched their playoff spot by easily taking the first three in the four-game set with the Rockies, and they can thank Marte, who has nine hits and six RBIs -- two on his fourth-inning double in this one -- in the three contests.

Marte's two-run double

Wakeup call: Rockies manager Walt Weiss said Dickerson could "wake up on Christmas morning and hit." Or he can "hit under water," whatever that means. But he's proving he also can come off the disabled list and hit. Since being activated from a non-displaced rib fracture on the right side on Sept. 8, he has hit safely in seven of his 13 games. Wednesday night's big hit was his seventh homer of the year, to begin a four-run fifth.

"He missed a lot of time, and that's tough to do," Weiss said of Dickerson, who also visited the DL twice with left foot plantar fasciitis. "He looks just like he has for a couple years now. He's a heck of a hitter."

Dickerson's solo blast

Good thing he was by the phone: Murphy, a catching prospect, was done with his strong year at Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Albuquerque and preparing for the Arizona Fall League when the Rockies needed him to replace the injured Nick Hundley. On Wednesday, he knocked his third Major League home run, off Morton for three runs in the sixth to cut the difference to 7-6.

"He's a very poised kid, very mentally strong," Weiss said. "And he's done a good job behind the plate, and his bat's got a lot of life."

Murphy's three-run shot

QUOTABLE
"We've been very, very resilient. We've persevered through a lot of things, and now we've taken the first step." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, whose team's five-game win streak is its longest since the All-Star break

SCRATCHES THAT HURT
The Rockies scratched center fielder Charlie Blackmon before the game because of neck stiffness. His replacement in center, Brandon Barnes, left before the sixth inning with a mild left hamstring strain.

Barnes' injury

WHAT'S NEXT
Pirates: Jeff Locke (8-11, 4.48 ERA) gets the call in Thursday's series finale at 3:10 p.m. ET. The lefty has made six of his past eight starts on the road, where he's 4-7 with a 5.69 ERA in 14 starts. By contrast, he is 4-4 with a 3.46 ERA in 15 starts at home.

Rockies: Righty Chad Bettis (8-5, 4.68) is 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA in his last two starts, so the Rockies hope he can reverse the club's trend of three abysmal starts against the Pirates when he takes the mound for Thursday's finale at 1:10 MT.

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Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com and Jack Etkin is an MLB.com contributor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.