Bucs: Anything can happen in baseball

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Pirates are close to having their third champagne celebration party, and Charlie Morton is holding the keys to the liquor cabinet.

If Morton and the Pirates can beat the St. Louis Cardinals today, they’ll earn a trip to the National League Championship Series and avoid a return trip to St. Louis for a do-or-don’t one-game showdown on Wednesday.

That’s the situation after the Pirates 5-3 victory late Sunday afternoon gave them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.

You want a prediction? Flip a coin. That’s as good any guess between these two teams, which were separated by just three games over the course of a 162-game season.

Every year when postseason series start, newspapers waste space with position-by-position analysis.

There’s a check mark showing which team has an edge, as if it has any relationship to reality.

The fun – and the stress – of postseason games is so much of it is utterly random. The Cardinals started Pete Kozma at shortstop for the first time Sunday. He was a .217 hitter in the regular season, and the pre-game talk was about how Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had foolishly put another automatic out at the bottom of the batting order.

So, of course, Kozma went 2-for-3 in the game with a walk.

Then there’s the matter of Pedro Alvarez’s .180 batting average against lefthanded pitching. That was the reason Matheny brought in lefty Kevin Siegrist to face Alvarez with the game on the line.

So Alvarez lined a tie-breaking single to help the Pirates surge ahead in the eighth inning and set the stage for another Jason Grillii save.

It works the other way, too. There was Andrew McCutchen leading off the eighth with a double. Then McCutchen, perhaps the team’s most efficient base runner, took off for third on a ball grounded directly to Kozma at short and was an easy out at third, deflating a crowd that was primed for the winning rally.

Joe Kelly, who gave the Pirates problems all season, gave up two runs in the first inning.

Francisco Liriano, who had handled the Cardinals easily in the regular season, labored through his six innings.

“He didn’t have his best stuff tonight,” manager Clint Hurdle allowed.

The game could have gotten away from the Pirates several times, especially playing against a team with a postseason pedigree.

But it didn’t.

So the Pirates are in the enviable situation of having a chance to wrap it up at home and get a little extra time off before starting the NLCS.

But that brings back bad memories of 1991, the middle year of the Pirates’ troika of playoff heartbreak in the early 1990s.

They won a tense Game Five in Atlanta, 1-0, and came home needing one win to advance to the World Series.

They didn’t score another run in the series. They were shut out 1-0 and 4-0, getting 10 hits (nine singles) in 61 at bats for a .164 average over those last two maddening games.

That’s postseason baseball – highs and lows that are extreme.

Is Morton the big-game pitcher who can close this out? Is St. Louis rookie Michael Wacha, a 2012 draft pick, destined to be a postseason hero for the Cardinals?

This is what keeps us watching.

The game starts just after 3, televised by TBS if you’re not lucky enough to have a ticket.

It’s the best show on TV these days.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com