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Pirates edge Braves, clinch playoff spot

Sep 24, 2014 - 3:45 AM Atlanta, GA ( - Andrew McCutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates are headed back to the postseason for the second straight year.

McCutchen reached base in all four of his plate appearances and scored twice, including the winning run in sixth inning as the Pirates edged the lifeless Atlanta Braves, 3-2, on Tuesday.

Travis Snider hit a solo homer and Starling Marte drove in the deciding run for the Pirates, who have won 11 of 13 and clinched one of the wild-card spots in the NL thanks to the victory and Milwaukee's loss to Cincinnati.

Pittsburgh, which reached the playoffs for the first time since 1992 last season, also pulled within 1 1/2 games of the NL Central-leading Cardinals after St. Louis lost to the Cubs in extra innings Tuesday.

"The second consecutive (playoff) season is so much better than the 18, 19, 20 years of consecutive losing," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "So we're onto something."

Gerrit Cole (11-5) shook off a shaky beginning and wound up retiring the final 16 batters he faced. He allowed two runs on four hits and struck out eight over seven frames.

"It's what every team wants to do," McCutchen said of making the playoffs. "We've still got some games left. We still actually have an opportunity to win the division, so this is just one step in that direction."

The Braves were limited to six hits and have scored just 17 runs over a horrid 1-10 stretch that eliminated the club from playoff contention.

Alex Wood (11-11) was saddled with the loss after allowing seven hits and three runs -- two earned -- over 6 2/3 innings.

"You never want to see teams clinch on your field," said Braves left fielder Justin Upton. "You hope to prevent that. You hope to play better than we did. We came out good. Cole just got into a rhythm and we couldn't solve him."

McCutchen, whose homer in the opener of this four-game series accounted for the only run, scored the game-winner again after doubling to open the sixth and coming around when Marte golfed a low 1-2 pitch into the left-field gap to snap a 2-2 tie.

Jared Hughes pitched a scoreless eighth behind Cole, and Tony Watson finished things off in the ninth to spark the celebration in the locker room. Watson picked up his second save of the year.

A streak of 23 straight scoreless innings by Pirates starters ended in the first as Freddie Freeman doubled in Philip Gosselin.

Cole found himself in more trouble in the second, but limited the Braves to one run after putting the first three hitters on base. Andrelton Simmons' double-play ground ball plated Jason Heyward before Cole struck out Wood to strand a runner on third.

The Pirates' speed accounted for a run in the fourth, and their power pulled them even an inning later.

With runners on the corners and two outs, Marte broke for second and was willing to give himself up in order for McCutchen to score from third. Catcher Christian Bethancourt's throw to second got away from Gosselin, however, and both runners were safe.

Snider turned on the first pitch of the next frame and snuck it into the first row of seats in right field for his 12th home run of the season.

Game Notes

Cole has won four straight starts ... Russell Martin's 13-game hitting streak came to an end, but Pirates teammate Josh Harrison, extended his to 11 games by going 1-for-4 ... Wood has not allowed more than three earned runs in 11 straight outings ... The Braves have dropped to 76-81 on the season, the first time they have dipped five games below .500 since May 9, 2010, when they were 13-18.