PITTSBURGH — Francisco Liriano showed up at PNC Park on Tuesday afternoon in a suit with his suitcase packed for a trip St. Louis.
The message reverberated through the Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse. After 21 years away from the playoffs, it was time for the best story in baseball to become something more than a novelty act.
Liriano tossed seven dominant innings and the Pirates roared past Cincinnati 6-2 in the NL wild-card game Tuesday night then headed to St. Louis for the NL division series beginning Thursday. A.J. Burnett will start for the Pirates in Game 1 against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.
"He had the expectancy to win," Pittsburgh centerfielder Andrew McCutchen said. "When he showed up with his suit on, that got me hyped up."
St. Louis likely won't face Liriano until Game 3 at the earliest, though Liriano's teammates believe his performance set the tone for what they hope is an extended October stay.
In front of a black-clad crowd savoring its first postseason game since 1992, Russell Martin hit two home runs, Marlon Byrd also connected and McCutchen reached base four times.
"We're for real," McCutchen said. "We're definitely for real."
You won't hear the Reds arguing after Liriano continued his mid-career renaissance. The left-hander scattered four hits, struck out five and walked one to win his first playoff game and serve notice the Pirates have no intention of going quietly after spending two decades at the bottom of the standings.
"We didn't talk about one and done, we talked about one and run," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Win one and run to St. Louis."
Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto struggled in his third start since coming off the disabled list last month.
"He couldn't get the ball where he wanted," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Usually he can throw that ball through the eye of a needle. Tonight he was up."
The 36-year-old Byrd, acquired by the Pirates in late August from the New York Mets, celebrated the first postseason at-bat of his 12-year career — 1,250 games — by sending Cueto's fastball into the seats to give the Pirates the lead in the second inning. The shot sent another jolt through an already electric crowd, which began singing "Cue-to, Cue-to" in unison when Martin stepped in.
"This is 20 years of waiting. You're seeing it all come out in one night," Martin said. "Hopefully we can keep this atmosphere till late October."
The catcher followed with a drive into the bleachers in left field. The Reds never recovered, ending a 90-win season with a six-game losing streak. Three of those losses came at home against the Pirates in the final series of the season that determined the site of the win-or-die game.