Pirates into the playoffs for second straight year

ATLANTA -- Pittsburgh right-hander Gerrit Cole continued to polish his reputation as a money pitcher on Tuesday, and this time it secured his team a spot in the playoffs for the second straight year.

Cole overcame some early troubles to retire 17 straight batters as the Pirates beat the Atlanta Braves 3-2 and clinched no worse than a wild-card spot.

"He's the type of guy you want out on the mound every single game," Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "He's a gamer."

Cole got behind 2-0 when he gave up a run in each of the first two innings. After allowing the Braves to load the bases in the second, he got a double play and a strikeout, then set down Atlanta in order in each of the next five innings.

"He was really good," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We had him in a situation with the bases loaded and he only gave up one."

Cole (11-5) pitched seven innings and allowed two runs on four hits and two walks, striking out eight. He has won his last four starts and improved to 8-1 in September in his career.

Jared Hughes pitched a scoreless eighth and Tony Watson worked the ninth to earn his second save. Watson allowed a single to second baseman Phil Gosselin, but he induced first baseman Freddie Freeman to hit into a game-ending double play.

The victory, combined with Cincinnati's 3-1 win over Milwaukee, clinched a wild-card spot for the Pirates (86-71). They also remain in contention for the NL Central title.

"We came here to win a division and we're still going for that," Cole said. "But it's nice to accomplish something collectively."

Atlanta starter Alex Wood (11-11) pitched 6 2/3 innings and allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits and two walks. Wood struck out six and lost for the first time since Aug. 26.

"Another solid performance for Alex," Gonzalez said. "You couldn't ask for more. He gave us a chance to win the game."

With the score tied 2-2, the Pirates pushed across what proved to be the winning run in the sixth. McCutchen led off with a double and scored one out later on a double by left fielder Starling Marte.

The Braves (76-81) scored in the first inning for the first time since Aug. 27. Gosselin reached on a fielder's choice with one out and scored on a double into the right-field corner by Freeman, who was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple.

Atlanta added another run in the second inning. Right fielder Jason Heyward led off with a walk, went to second on a single by catcher Christian Bethancourt and took third on third baseman Chris Johnson's infield single. Heyward scored when shortstop Andrelton Simmons grounded into a double play, his team-leading 25th.

The Pirates cut the lead to 2-1 with a double steal in the fourth inning. Marte was at first and McCutchen was at third with two outs. Marte took off and Bethancourt made a poor throw to second that bounced off the glove of second baseman Phil Gosselin and allowed McCutchen to score.

The Pirates tied it in the fifth when right fielder Travis Snider led off the inning with a home run to right, his 12th homer of the season.

"I made a couple of mistakes," Wood said. "That one to Snider, he made me pay for it."

The Braves lost their fifth straight game. Atlanta is 4-17 in September and must win its last five games to finish .500.

Pittsburgh has won three straight and improved to 15-6 in September.

NOTES: Pittsburgh C Russell Martin's hitting streak ended at 13 games when he went 0-for-4. ... 3B Josh Harrison extended his streak to 11 games with a single in the seventh inning. ... Atlanta RF Jason Heyward returned to the starting lineup after missing four games with a swollen thumb. C Evan Gattis (kidney stones) was not in the starting lineup again. He has not started since Sept. 7, although he pinch-hit in the eighth inning and grounded into a double play. ... The Braves will shut down LHP Mike Minor for the rest of the season because of a sore shoulder. Minor (6-12) was able to complete only one inning in his last start, Sept. 20 against the New York Mets. RHP David Hale (4-4) will take Minor's turn in the rotation on Thursday. ... Pittsburgh fired Double-A Altoona manager Carlos Garcia after two seasons. Garcia played for the Pirates for seven seasons and was an All-Star in 2004. He managed Class A Bradenton for two years before moving up. ... Johan De Jesus, a minor league third baseman in the Pirates' organization, was suspended 72 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

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