In what was hopefully not the final game played in Great American Ball Park this season, the Reds fell to the Buccos yet again, 4-2. As of Tuesday, the Reds were only two games out of first place and hoping to make a push at the division crown. Sunday night, the season finished with them seven games behind the Cardinals and limping into a one-game playoff in Pittsburgh.
After losing yesterday and rendering today’s season finale meaningless, the Reds/Pirates matchup began to look more like a contest of the Louisville Bats against the Indianapolis Indians. Pedro Alvarez was the only Pirate regular to start and even he only played five innings of action. The Reds went with their starting lineup from the get-go (minus Brandon Phillips, obviously) and gave every starter two at-bats before being pulled.
Greg Reynolds was today’s hard luck loser as balls were not hit exceptionally hard, yet managed to find gaps. In the top of the second, Jordy Mercer hit a looping line drive into right field that Jay Bruce inexplicably dove for and missed. As the ball rolled to the wall, Shin-Soo Choo was nowhere to be found and try as he might; Jay Bruce could not retrieve the ball in time as Mercer zoomed around the bases for the first inside-the-park homerun in Great American Ball Park since Tony Campana in 2011.
The offensive woes continued as Zack Cozart was the only regular to get a hit against Pirates youngster Brandon Cumpton. Both Ryan Ludwick and Joey Votto smashed line drivers in both their plate appearances, yet four outs were tallied in the Bucs column. Corky Miller was the Reds offensive hero of the day with a two-RBI double in the eighth that cut the Pirates lead in half. In what may have been his final Major League at-bat and game, capping it off with a two-RBI double would be the sweet cherry on top of Corky’s career.
Whether as a fan you believe the one-game playoff to be fair or not, it has come down to that. Johnny Cueto talked before the game today about how excited he was for his country to get to see the matchup between two great Dominican pitchers pitch in such a vital game. As a fan, do it for whomever you want Johnny, as long as you do it. Something has to give: the Reds have lost three consecutive games to the Pirates and five in a row overall, while the Pirates have not won this season facing the Redlegs when Francisco Liriano takes the mound.
Tony Cingrani is said to be strengthening his lower back and getting ready for Tuesday’s game. I would think if for any reason Cueto’s lat/oblique would act up; Cingrani would be the fail safe, along with Sam LeCure.
A pessimist will look at Tuesday’s game as a punishment, where the Redlegs will once again get the hopes up of loyal fans that would follow this team to the grave. For an entire generation of fans, the Reds have been nothing but cruel and unforgiving, getting close enough just to make it hurt when it’s yanked away. Francisco Liriano has been nearly untouchable at home this season and can be downright impossible to hit when his slider is working. The offense has unquestionably looked dismal over the past week; no one can deny that. The optimist Reds fan though will see that this slump cannot possibly last. Is the one-game playoff a crapshoot? Sure, it may be. That may even be in the Reds favor. If the series were two out of three, the Pirates might have a distinct advantage. All the Reds need is to win one game and it just so happens they have the best starting pitcher they’ve had in the past 20 years starting that game. The Reds have Billy Hamilton and Aroldis Chapman, the two biggest and most exciting weapons in the game to utilize to their advantage late. Things may look bleak and glum in Reds Country but it is not an insurmountable hill by any means. There is no hole to climb out of; no series to even up, or multiple games to win in a row, yet. For the next two days, all attention will be focused towards winning one game, just one, and worrying about the rest when it comes time.