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tion of U." He even wore a black and purple cost

  • 11 Feb
    CINCINNATI, Ohio -- The Pirates are one win away from hosting a playoff game. [b]Kevin Faulk Jersey[/b] . Marlon Byrd had three hits and Pedro Alvarez hit a two-run homer high off the batters eye on Friday night, leading Pittsburgh over the Cincinnati Reds 4-1 in a series that will decide which one hosts the NL wild-card game. Both teams clinched post-season berths this week. The Pirates chances of winning the NL Central ended later Friday night when St. Louis beat the Cubs 7-0 to clinch the title. So now it comes down to the wild-card playoff next Tuesday night, and the Pirates are one win away from taking it to PNC Park. Nice way to start a decisive series. "Its huge," Byrd said. "We want to get that one-game playoff in Pittsburgh." Byrd and Alvarez provided all of the Pirates runs off Homer Bailey (11-12), who is struggling with his control heading into the post-season. A.J. Burnett (10-11) handled the Reds slumping lineup, allowing Todd Fraziers homer and five hits overall in eight innings. Jason Grilli gave up a hit in the ninth while getting his 33rd save in 35 chances. "It gives us some momentum, no doubt about that," manager Clint Hurdle said. "When you pretty much dominate through eight innings, it sparks everybody. Thats what we were looking for from him." Cincinnati has lost three straight and scored one run in the last 22 innings. "Once I got that (homer), I thought we might get a spark going, but we couldnt find it," Frazier said. The bruising, tight-as-could-be series has gone up and down the Ohio River all summer long with neither team able to get much advantage. The Pirates lead the series 9-8. Fourteen of the 17 games have been decided by three runs or less. Batters have been plunked 26 times during the season series, most in the majors this year. Its the biggest series between them since 1990, when the Reds beat Barry Bonds and the Pirates to reach the World Series, where they swept Oakland for their last title. The Pirates got the early advantage in this decisive series by beating Bailey, who threw the first of his two no-hitters at PNC Park on Sept. 28 last year. Since then, hes failed to beat the Pirates in four starts, going 0-3. Control has been a problem lately. He helped the Pirates load the bases in the third on a hit batter and a pair of walks, and Byrd -- an August trade acquisition from the Mets -- singled through the hole at shortstop for a 2-0 lead. Byrd doubled off the top of the wall in centre field to open the sixth, and Alvarez hit his 35th homer high off the batters eye for a 4-1 lead that ended Baileys outing. He gave up four runs, four hits, four walks, hit two batters and threw a wild pitch. "Any time you can get separation in the lead against a team like the Reds, its huge," Alvarez said. "Thats why we were all pretty excited. You can never have too much breathing room with those guys." Burnett handled Cincinnatis slumping lineup, retiring the last 10 batters he faced. Frazier hit his 19th homer off the screen on the left-field foul pole in the fourth, ending Cincinnatis streak of 16 scoreless innings. Burnett also beat the Reds and Bailey 4-2 last Saturday at PNC Park, allowing only four hits and fanning 12 in seven innings. He followed that outing by getting the Pirates off to the start they wanted at Great American Ball Park. "Anytime you come into somebody elses house in the first game, you want to do that," Burnett said. "It just happens to be an important part of the season." Joey Votto singled twice, surpassing Pete Roses club record of reaching base 311 times in a season. NOTES: The Reds wore their Los Rojos jerseys to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. ... Hurdle will change his starting pitcher on Sunday if nothings at stake. RH Gerrit Cole (10-7) is scheduled to go against RH Johnny Cueto (5-2). Hurdle would keep Cole available as insurance for the wild-card game on Tuesday. ... Alvarezs homer gave him 99 RBIs. ... Reds manager Dusty Baker doesnt plan to use LH Tony Cingrani in relief during the series. Cingrani is recovering from his second bout of back spasms. ... Bronson Arroyo (14-11) starts on Saturday against Pittsburghs Charlie Morton (7-4). Morton has given up only one run in his last three starts at Great American Ball Park, throwing two complete games. [b]Deatrich Wise Jr Jersey[/b] . Berkman almost left the game last off-season before signing with the Texas Rangers. He then had another injury-plagued season and was limited to 73 games. [b]Chris Hogan Jersey[/b] . There is no argument that the line of Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Thomas Vanek was one of the hottest in the NHL leading into the post-season, and they did combine for three goals and seven points, but it was the depth of all four lines that helped propel Montreal.BOSTON - Every night for the last three weeks, Jeremy Abbott had the same nightmare. Hed implode in the short program of the U.S. Championships, buried in seventh place with an Olympic berth out of reach. "I would wake up crying, and it was just horrifying," he said. The reality Friday was nothing like that. A spotless performance set a U.S. record with 99.86 points in his final nationals before retiring. "I wouldnt say it was a dream, because I was very in it," Abbott said. "I was very focused and very aware of what I was doing the entire program. I think thats why it was as good as it was." The three-time U.S. champ leads Richard Dornbush by 7.82 points heading into Sundays free skate. "Honestly, I have much more confidence in the long program than I do in the short program," Abbott said. The only time he came close to falling was when he nearly tumbled during his celebration afterward. The three jumps were perfect, his footwork exuberant. Hes dazzled like this before at U.S. Championships, but there have been few of these moments since his last title two years ago. Abbott often struggled as he overhauled his training program. "When things didnt work at competition, I believed in what weve done," he said. "And I just kept plugging at it, and it paid off tonight." Usually he bubbles with energy in the lead-up to nationals, his favourite event. The 28-year-old Abbott felt strangely nonchalant this year until the day before he headed to Boston. "I just realized that I was leaving and this was the last one," Abbott said. "I had this flood of emotion and excitement and fear and dread and passion and everything. Since Ive been here, its been really joyous." World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White felt the same way earlier Friday in their short dance. The 2010 Olympic silver medallists are well on their way to a sixth straight U.S. title. Skating to selections from "My Fair Lady," Davis and White broke their own record with 80.69 points to build more than a seven-point lead on Madison Chock and Evan Bates. Siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani were third; three teams will go to Sochi. The free dance is Saturday. "This is the first time we felt comfortable enough to let things happen naturally," Davis said. "This is the fifth time weere competing the program. [b]Donta Hightower Jersey[/b]. With this program, its all about being comfortable enough to let things happen naturally, and when you reach a point where it can be just fun, thats what we really enjoy about skating." Abbott has enjoyed U.S. Championships far more than major international competitions in his career. He beat Evan Lysacek at the 2010 nationals before the last Olympics, only to finish ninth when his countryman captured gold in Vancouver. Abbott held the previous U.S. mark for a short program, 90.23 at the 2012 nationals. Dornbush, 22, has struggled since coming in second in 2011 and didnt even compete in the Grand Prix series this season. Only the second skater of the night, he was spectacular from the get-go Friday, landing a perfect quad and triple axel that had the fans entranced. By the time his 2 1/2-minute program was done, the crowd was on its feet, Dornbush was on his knees throwing an imaginary punch through the air and celebrating a career best. "Im not sure any thoughts went through my head," he said. "I was pretty excited, pretty pumped." Jason Brown was in third after a smokin skate to Princes "The Question of U." He even wore a black and purple costume embellished with rhinestones around his neck and down his back and side, plus Princes "love symbol" on the back. He nailed a triple axel and a triple flip-triple toe loop with gorgeous flow to open the program. Brown, who just turned 19, added a lutz with both hands above his head, footwork that meshed with every element and with every nuance of the music, and speedy spins that had the crowd roaring. "I think the whole season has pushed every guy to just really push themselves to their limits because anything is possible at this event," he said. Defending champion Max Aaron was fourth, one of five skaters to land a clean quad. The U.S. will send two men to Sochi. Abbott knows exactly what stands between him and a shot at Olympic redemption: eight jumping passes, 13 jumps, three spins and two series of footwork. "That was just fun," he said. "I love to figure skate. When you hit all the technical stuff and you do all the athletic part, thats when you can really enjoy the performance." ___ AP Sports Writers Barry Wilner and Jimmy Golen contributed to this report. 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