There always seems to be a definitive moment throughout the course of a season where a team goes on to have great success and they are harkened back to pinpoint where it all took off. On this Friday night in Pittsburgh, with their backs pinned to the wall, the Cincinnati Reds may have taken off on a path where they won’t be looking back.
Francisco Liriano was all kinds of brilliant over the first eight frames for the Bucs. Outside of a minor form of manufacturing a run and a gigantic blast off the bat of Todd Frazier, the Reds offense was virtually neutralized against the Pirates ace. The best thing that could have happened to the Reds all night was probably bench coach, Jeff Banister, calling down to the bullpen and bringing in Mark Melancon to attempt to nail down the three-run save.
Normally, seeing Melancon in a late-inning situation this year has not had a positive outcome for the opposing team. Heading into tonight, the Pirates had only lost three times all season leading after eight; once against the Reds and another just two days ago. After a brilliant defensive shift from the Buccos that thwarted Jay Bruce’s attempt at a hit in the ninth, it left Ryan Ludwick at second with just one out remaining, still down three runs.
What comes next could not have been scripted by Spielberg nor Scorsese, as Todd Frazier’s bouncer to short was inexplicably tossed into the stands by Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, allowing Ludwick to score and Frazier to move to second, but most importantly; keeping the inning going. Zack Cozart with his new right field approach, dropped a blooper over the head of Neil Walker and in front of Marlon Byrd with Frazier smartly holding up at third, not wanting to risk the chance of being gunned down at home. From there, the engines got roaring on “Billy the Jet” as Billy Hamilton was summoned to pinch-run for Cozart and almost on cue, took off like a gun and swiped second from under catcher Russell Martin, leaving it up to the Pennsylvania native, Devin Mesoraco.
Ironically enough, I spent part of my Friday afternoon watching highlights from the May 7th game at home against Atlanta, where for those who do not know, Devin Mesoraco has an extended at-bat against Craig Kimbrel, before driving a two-out, game-tying homerun in the bottom of the ninth for what was unquestionably the biggest at-bat of his career at the time being. Coincidentally enough come Friday evening; he would have his new biggest at-bat of his very young career. After smacking curveball after curveball into the dirt to keep himself alive, Mesoraco eventually laced an inside cutter in between third and short, or the “five and a half hole,” where it deflected off Pedro Alvarez’s glove and careened towards a now vacated shortstop position as Billy Hamilton zoomed around third and slid into home to shock the Pittsburgh crowd and cause the Redlegs bench to erupt.
Extra innings came next as the Reds were no stranger to this setting, this time facing an old foe in Kyle Farnsworth. The lack of depth in the Pirate bullpen reared its ugly head as Joey Votto hit a lined shot down the left field line that landed in the front row to put the Reds ahead 6-5, for good. Aroldis Chapman was rock solid in the bottom of the inning, blowing away Gaby Sanchez to seal the incredible comeback victory for the Reds.
Lost in the shuffle of the unbelievable comeback was the rocky night that Mat Latos had on the mound. Latos has had put up stellar numbers in his career thus far in PNC Park, yet tonight was certainly not his night, as he gave up solo homeruns to Jose Tabata and Neil Walker before he could even get comfortable on the mound. Battling control of his fastball and not nearly enough snap on his breaking pitches, the Reds ace certainly did not look promising ahead of his potential start in Game 163. This is not to say that Latos doesn’t deserve the ball, or he’s not the guy most Reds fan would trust in, but in his two biggest games since arriving in the Queen City, (tonight and Game 5 of last year’s NLDS) he hasn’t shown up. That being said, the rotation has been structured so that he would be on turn for the one-game playoff if it came down to that one fatal night.
What would have been the lead story had it not been for the Reds stick-to-itiveness tonight, was the fact that in the bottom of the eighth inning, trailing by three runs, with a 2-2 count, Sam LeCure, like he has so many times before, ran a two-seam fastball in on a right-handed hitter and this one just so happened to plunk the man in the batter’s box. Unfortunately for everyone involved, that right-handed batter is the Pirates best player and the front-runner for the National League’s Most Valuable Player award, Andrew McCutchen. Home plate umpire Mark Carlson must have seen or heard something that nobody else did, because he immediately warned both benches, which prompted a tirade from Bucs skipper, Clint Hurdle. After moments of intense argument which may have well been warranted, Hurdle was tossed. It would be greatly unfortunate to see any kind of retaliation from either side the rest of the way as the Reds-Pirates battles this season have been predicated on great competition and the desire to be champions of the Central division, not to out-muscle the other team.
The Milwaukee Brewers certainly had their chances to return the favor for the Reds tonight against the Cardinals, but Carlos Gomez was unable to capitalize on a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the bottom of the ninth and the Brewers went on to lose, 7-6 to the Redbirds. At this very moment, the Redlegs trail the Cardinals by two for the division lead with eight to play and are in a deadlock with the Pirates for home-field advantage of the wildcard game.
Inclement weather is surrounding the area of Pittsburgh tomorrow like the dark cloud that may be hovering over the Bucs season. If the game is able to get underway at 7:05 ET like its projected, it will be Homer Bailey toeing the rubber against A.J. Burnett in a battle of two hard-throwing righties down at PNC Park as only eight games remain.