Cincinnati Reds: High stakes on final weekend despite elimination from division race

Home field in wild-card game on the line

CINCINNATI - Even though they lost their last chance to repeat as NL Central Division champs, the Reds can still win home field in the wild-card game in their last three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates here this weekend.

All the Reds have to do is win two out of three.

That would guarantee a tie with Pittsburgh at 92-70 and the Reds would get home field against the Pirates based on the first tiebreaker: head-to-head record. The teams are 8-8 against each other entering the season-ending series.

But if the Pirates win two or sweep, it means the Reds will go on the road for the wild-card game on Tuesday.

They might even have to go to St. Louis.

Although the second-place Pirates fell three games behind the Cardinals by losing to the Cubs Wednesday, they still have a chance – however slim – to tie St. Louis on the final weekend.

That would happen if the Pirates sweep the Reds and the Cubs sweep the Cardinals.

Under that scenario, the Pirates and Cardinals would play a one-game division playoff Monday in Pittsburgh. The Pirates would get home field based on the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Pirates were 10-9 against the Cardinals this season.

The Reds would go on the road to play the Pirates-Cardinals loser in the wild-card game on Tuesday.

But that would take a miracle -  no team has come back from a three-game deficit in the last three games to win a division title, according to STATS, the Chicago-based sports data giant. Teams are 0-for-27 at that.

The Reds bowed out of the division race Wednesday afternoon after Mets starter Daisuke Matsuzaka and two relievers shut them out 1-0 at Great American Ball Park.

That left them watching the scoreboard to see what the Cardinals did later against the Nationals. When the Cards won 4-1, the Reds were eliminated.

"We have to find a way to get that big hit," manager Dusty Baker said. "This team seems to take the hard road most of the time. It is very important to have the home field advantage, but it's not impossible no matter where you play."

The shutout loss was Cincinnati's 11th of the season, after only four last season.

Even Billy Hamilton looked human. He was thrown out trying to steal second for the first time after 13 straight thefts.

Matsuzaka (3-3) held the Reds to four hits in 7 2/3 innings. He struck out six.

Reds starter Mat Latos (14-7) allowed only four hits in seven innings and struck out seven. But he also hit two batters in slipping to 0-2 in four starts since his last win on Sept. 2 against St. Louis.

"To take the positive out of today, I stayed healthy all year, made all my starts, set a career-high in innings," Latos said. "Whenever I do get the ball again, I'll be ready to go, ready to compete. I felt strong. Velocity was up. I'll take it into the next start."

The Mets scored the only run in the third inning.

After Latos hit Wilfredo Tovar, Matsuzaka bunted him to second.

A passed ball by Devin Mesoraco allowed Tovar to go to third, and Tovar scored on Eric Young’s soft single to right.

The Reds did set a season attendance record at GABP on Wednesday. But it didn’t sound like much of a crowd to left fielder Ryan Ludwick, who called out the fans after the game.

“Even though the Mets aren’t a playoff team, there just wasn’t a lot of energy in the ball park and that’s why home advantage matters,” Ludwick said.

The crowd of 26,223 raised the season total to 2,371,103. The club’s all-time high of 2,629,708 was set in 1976 at Riverfront Stadium.

The Reds' last hope for winning the division was for the Cardinals to have a last-week meltdown like the Reds had in 1999.

With four games to go that season, the Reds were in first place, one game ahead of the Astros, and seemed assured of winning at least a wild-card spot.

But the Reds lost three out of four and the Astros overtook them to win the division by one game.

Worse, the Reds had to settle for a one-game playoff with the Mets at Cinergy Field for the lone wild-card spot.

Al Leiter pitched a two-hit shutout and the Reds lost 5-0.

That was as close as the Reds got to the playoffs from 1996 until 2010.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

See the postseason schedule at http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article/mlb/major-league-baseball-releases-postseason-schedule-for-2013-playoffs?ymd=20130903&content_id=59414608&vkey=news_mlb

 

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