There are nights when errors are your friend and there are nights when errors can be your demise. Tonight, the Reds downfall was a bobbled ground ball to first base and a pickoff throw that sailed down the right field line.
For the first six batters of the game, it seemed as if A.J. Burnett was going to be human on this night against a team he is usually dominant against. After a base hit by Brandon Phillips, followed by a walk to Joey Votto; Ryan Ludwick stung a ball that quite literally went through Clint Barmes and into left field to put the Reds ahead 1-0 early and kept the good vibes flowing. To lead off the second inning, Zack Cozart was all over a fastball and deposited it deep into the gorgeous, Pittsburgh night as the Redlegs went up 2-0 before Burnett could get comfortable and with Homer Bailey on the mound, all seemed right in the Queen City.
After two consecutive juggles of an easy, inning-ending grounder by Joey Votto, Pedro Alvarez reached to extend the second inning in what seemed to be a harmless error if Homer Bailey could simply retire Russell Martin and head back to the dugout. Unfortunately, rather than hitting the outside corner as Ryan Hanigan had set up, Bailey missed on the inner third and the Pirate catcher crushed a two-run shot to a nearly identical spot of Zack Cozart’s in the top of the inning.
As A.J. Burnett began to settle in, those two runs the Reds handed the Bucs began to loom large. Channeling his inner-Bob Gibson, Burnett blew smoke and darted sliders and hooks away from everyone in the Reds order, striking out a season-high 12. This is all from a pitcher who just a few days earlier announced that he was contemplating retirement at the conclusion of the season.
The strike zone of home plate umpire Gerry Davis consisted of not much outside of the heart of the plate, granted it was un-even on both sides. Mud slipped its way in between Homer Bailey’s spikes and he walked Andrew McCutchen, leading to an errant throw down the right field line that allowed the NL’s leading MVP candidate to scamper over to third. Newly acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd eventually drove in McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez followed up with a RBI single off Zach Duke to put the Buccos up 4-2 for good.
The Reds mildly threatened in both the 8th and the 9th before Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce, respectively, bounced into double plays to end any sniff of threats the Redlegs had. Jason Grilli returned to the closer’s role after Mark Melancon had blown two consecutive saves and slammed the door on the Redlegs, knocking them one game back of the Bucs in the wildcard and three back of the Redbirds with only seven games to play.
Regardless of lineup concerns, the Reds ran into a buzzsaw in A.J. Burnett tonight. Luckily, Shin-Soo Choo’s thumb doesn’t sound to be a major concern, although he will be getting the day off tomorrow with lefty Jeff Locke on the mound. According to manager Dusty Baker, Billy Hamilton will be getting his second Major League start in centerfield tomorrow afternoon.
The rain is gladly out of the area and at 1:35 ET tomorrow, Bronson Arroyo is going to lock horns with the struggling Jeff Locke. Coming into the series, taking two out of three on Pittsburgh’s home field would be considered a major victory, so regardless of how rough the current loss from tonight may feel; a win tomorrow coupled with a Cardinals loss puts the Redlegs two back with just six to play.