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SD@PIT: Burnett fans eight over 6 2/3 solid frames

Clint Hurdle has been waiting for this since he took over as the Pirates' manager following the 2010 season.

Instead of flirting with success like the past two seasons, Pittsburgh is in the thick of the chase for the National League Central crown with less than a week and a half to play. A winning season has been locked up, and a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 1992 seems all but certain.

Hurdle is excited for his team to be in its current spot, but getting into position is only half the battle.

"It's not finished," Hurdle said. "But it's heading in the right direction. I played my part, but we still have parts to play."

Among those parts is this weekend's crucial series at PNC Park against the Reds, who also have a division title in their sights. The Reds scored three runs in the ninth on the way to a 6-5, 10-inning win in the opener on Friday, but the two teams will be back at it again Saturday for the second of six games between the division rivals to close out the season.

After the current series, Cincinnati returns home to host the Mets, and Pittsburgh hits the road to take on the Cubs. The Pirates and Reds will then meet for the final series of the season at Great American Ball Park.

"We knew the schedule once it was handed out, then you just roll with it," Hurdle said. "But isn't it great how it all played out, both for the fans here and in Cincinnati?"

Those fans will have a chance to enjoy the most tightly contested division race in baseball. With eight games remaining for the Pirates, Reds and Cardinals, everything in the NL Central is yet to be decided. Cincinnati's dramatic win on Friday put the team in a second-place tie with Pittsburgh, marking the first time the Reds have been better than third since June 20. Meanwhile, St. Louis' win over Milwaukee gave the first-place Cardinals a two-game cushion.

Whichever teams don't win the NL Central appear destined to face each other in the NL Wild Card. Both the Reds and Pirates would prefer to avoid that fate and simply advance straight to the NL Division Series. However, at least one of the clubs will likely end up playing in the one-game Wild Card, and they would both rather do so at home.

That leaves a lot on the line entering Saturday and the final nine days of the season, and the magnitude of each game is understood in both the Reds' and Pirates' clubhouses.

"If I have to instill importance of this, they need to get another job," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of his players. "It's self-explanatory. We played the whole season to get to this. You look at the schedule and know it's probably going to get to this. It's here."

Reds: Bailey looks to continue PNC Park dominance
Before Reds pitcher Homer Bailey tossed a no-hitter at home on July 2 this season, he first accomplished the feat on the road against the Pirates in September last year. For the first time since, Bailey will take the mound at PNC Park, hoping to help Cincinnati take the first two games against the Pirates.

Although his no-hitter stands above the rest, it wasn't far off from the way Bailey has performed each time out on Pittsburgh's home field. In six career road starts against the Pirates, Bailey is 5-0 with a 1.48 ERA. Including his no-no, the 27-year-old right-hander has delivered three complete games -- two of which were shutouts.

In 45 innings pitched at PNC Park, Bailey has allowed just 22 hits and 12 walks while registering 31 punchouts.

Bailey will be making his third start against the Pirates this season, having gone 0-1 with a 3.65 ERA in the previous two. Most recently, despite 12 strikeouts, Bailey took the loss on July 21, when he gave up three runs on seven hits and a walk in 6 1/3 innings.

• Reds oufielder Billy Hamilton is 10-for-10 on stolen-base attempts since being called up on Sept. 2. He scored the game-tying run in the top of the ninth on Friday after stealing second. Hamilton previously represented the game-winning run twice in this month and also scored the go-ahead run in Wednesday's 13-inning win over the Astros.

Pirates: Burnett hopes for more home success
Pirates starter A.J. Burnett has been at his best at home this season. On Saturday against the Reds, the 36-year-old right-hander will take the mound at PNC Park for the final time during the regular season in 2013.

Although he's just 4-4 in 13 home starts this season, Burnett hasn't given up more than three earned runs in any of those outings. He also hasn't allowed a home run to a visiting batter in 36 1/3 innings, dating all the way back to May 29.

Burnett made his most recent home start on Monday, when he limited the Padres to two runs in 6 2/3 innings. He took the loss, though, as Pittsburgh was shut out by San Diego.

• Pirates left fielder Starling Marte, who didn't start the last two games because of the birth of his first child, is expected to be back in the lineup on Saturday.

• Pirates pitching notched eight strikeouts on Friday, giving Pittsburgh a franchise record with 1,195 punchouts. The previous mark of 1,192 was set last season.

Worth noting
• The Reds' win Friday evened the season series with the Pirates at seven games apiece. Pittsburgh still holds a 4-3 edge at PNC Park.

• Since facing a 6 1/2-game deficit in the NL Central on Aug. 6, the Reds have the second-best record in baseball at 27-15.

• The Pirates have dropped four of their last five entering Saturday.

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