Assessment: Two thrilling wins, two frenzied capacity crowds, two painful stabs deep into the gut of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

No matter what happens today, the Reds have won this vitally important series – without two of their superstar players. Don’t be distracted by the phony controversy surrounding the alleged bean balls, umpire warnings, ejections or collisions. As crazy Ross Perot used to say, that’s gorilla dust. Let the Pirates and their fans fret over that stuff. It’s a sucker’s bet. Keep your eye on the baseball.

Mission One: Win series Accomplished

Mission Two: Finish them

Would a sweep of the Pirates guarantee the division championship for the Reds? No. Dozens of games remain to be played, and not all against the stupid Cubs and AAstros. The Reds still have nine games against the Pirates and Cardinals, six of those on the road. Can’t look past the defending World Series champion just yet. Three games await against the retooled powerhouse L.A. Dodgers and seven loom against the Phillies. Philadelphia may be in last place and may have traded away two outfielders, but they still roll out Halladay, Hamels and Lee three out of every five games and Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley suit up every day.

Nonetheless, today’s game offers Dusty Baker’s club a tremendous opportunity. The Reds have their spikes firmly and indelicately placed on the throats of the Pirates. They need to press down with the force of Scott Rolen’s head-first slide. A series sweep would put the Reds on a direct path to win the NL Central and turn the thoroughly-defeated Pirates’ attention toward the wild card.

All the pressure is on the Pirates today, desperate to win. The Reds will certainly get the Pirates’ best game, along with their ace pitcher, A.J. Burnett. A win by the Reds and Homer Bailey — a series sweep — would stagger the Pirates.

Pete Rose said it, “Somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose and I believe in letting the other guy lose.”

Photo: Cincinnati Enquirer

P.S. From my seventh-row seat last night, I was lucky to have this exact view of Scott Rolen’s slide into third base on his triple. Watching him launch his 37-year-old body into the air — risking all with reckless abandon, pounding that shoulder into the ground — was simply breathtaking. Scott Rolen demonstrated the same gutsy and raw determination to win that made Pete Rose the great player that he was.