Cincinnati Reds Drop Series Opener in Pittsburgh


Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In a back and forth battle, the Cincinnati Reds came up short, 6-5, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

From the first pitch, it was game on.  While throwing at Billy Hamilton seems highly unlikely due to his adeptness at turning a free pass into a run, it woke the Reds up. 

In his finest “Run Billy Run” impression, Hamilton zoomed around the bases to create a first inning run out of mid-air.  Sure, Brandon Phillips gets credit for an RBI, but Hamilton created, advanced and scored the run. 

Appearing human in his first appearance on the mound at PNC Park against the Reds since last October 1, Francisco Liriano pitched well, but not up to his usual level of domination.  With Mike Leake throwing the ball extremely well early on, Todd Frazier’s RBI double in the third to put the club ahead 2-0 seemed to bode well for the Reds chances.

It all began with a bloop.  Andrew McCutchen may never hit a ball softer, but with two strikes, Leake fooled him with an off-speed pitch, and watched as the reigning MVP found a way to muscle it into left field for a single.  Then, Leake came unglued.

Pedro Alvarez hit a rocket shot that would have cleared the right centerfield wall at Great American Ball Park by a solid dozen rows; but at home in Pittsburgh, he had to settle for a double.  Not wanting to let Neil Walker see anything to hit, Leake figured it was as good a time as any to get some payback for Hamilton being plunked, so he decided to let a two-seamer run off the backside of Walker.  That brought Ike Davis to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out.  You’ve seen this movie before.

Following Davis’ second Grand Slam off the Reds this season, the Reds trailed 4-2.  Curiously, it didn’t feel as such.  Mike Leake was still pitching exceptionally well outside of two pitches that got tattered.  He finished his night with seven strong innings, and had his spot not come up in the batting order, almost certainly would have gone back out for the eighth. 

From the inception of this roster being put together, this group has fought and clawed every out of every inning.  Scratching a run across in the top of the seventh to pull within one made the eighth inning explosion all the more manageable.  Then, an internal eruption occurred.

No one seems to know the third base coaches name until he makes a mistake.  Steve Smith, of course, is new here.  But, he is a solider of the Bryan Price army that’s sole mantra is to attack teams on the basepaths—no matter who is running.  In hindsight, Jay Bruce should have been held at third base, we know that; but had he been a split second sooner to sliding home, they would have been up two runs with two more in scoring position and nobody out.  It may feel as if they’re in debt to the baseball gods, but the Reds are not owed anything. 

Even after Devin Mesoraco laced his third hit of the night, raising his average to a ridiculous (I’m going to run out of descriptive adjectives if this continues any longer) .541, Starling Marte still had to make the perfect throw. 

As Reds fans sitting from the comfort of our chairs, bar stools, ballpark seats, we like to envision what we would do differently if it were us with the ball cap, bullpen jacket and wrist bands on.  We may “think” we know how certain players are feeling or the slump they may or may not be in, but we don’t have a pulse on the locker room like Bryan Price does. 

Let me preface this by saying, I’m a huge supporter of Bryan Price and the tactics he brings to the field.  But, his management of the bullpen on Monday night was atrocious. 

Pitching in mop-up duty on Sunday afternoon, Manny Parra faced six batters and only retired one of them.  (Which was Starlin Castro swinging at ball four a foot in the dirt)  He threw 35 pitches and had to be removed mid-inning before an eight-run lead became diminished even further.  The concept of “getting right back on the bump” applies, but not a day later in a critical game against a division opponent. 

Option numero uno would unquestionably have been to bring in Aroldis Chapman for a two-inning save, which Price mentioned was an idea he was open to in Spring Training.  Obviously, Chapman is not yet available, but it’s the concept that Price is willing to think outside the proverbial “box.”  (He even moved Joey Votto into the second spot in the batting order, another “outside the box” concept embraced by sabermatricians and logical folk alike.) 

So, for what reason was Jonathan Broxton sitting in the bullpen tossing a softball?  The heart of the Pirates order, beginning with the ever-dangerous Andrew McCutchen was approaching, and Price turned to a pitcher that was scuffling.  When “closers” are bypassed for lesser relievers in key situations, there is suddenly no longer a save situation.  If Price believes Broxton to be the best reliever, regardless of throwing side, race, ethnicity, religion, he needs to be facing the best batters in the Pirates order.  It is a divisional game against a rival Pirates club that could easily be taking the Reds playoff spot—it’s only April, but these games count. 

Just four weeks ago, on a poll on this very site, 48 percent of you said that J.J. Hoover should be the closer in Aroldis Chapman’s absence.  If I took a new poll right about now, I’d be hard pressed to find 48 percent that would want him on the active roster. 

Two weeks ago, the fans were calling for Trevor Bell to be the sacrificial lamb.  Away he went.  As of last week, Logan Ondrusek needed to go kick rocks.  Here he sits and waits for Aroldis Chapman to be activated.  Now, J.J. Hoover, if it were up to the masses would be on a one-way ride to Louisville.  He went from crowd favorite to public enemy number one in just seven appearances. 

The game ended fittingly.  Perennial Reds killer, Neil Walker, walked-off his Bucs on a looping line drive that turned around Brandon Phillips.  By all accounts, Russell Martin was out by the ol’ “country mile” at home on Jay Bruce’s throw, but that Bud Selig branded ball did not want to cooperate, bouncing clear over the head of Mesoraco.  Should somebody have recorded the out?  Absolutely.  Yet, the moment had a sense of finality to it.

In recent years, the Reds have never wilted under pressure.  (I’m not going to say the end of 2013 was so much the Reds folding as the Pirates being on a divine mission.)  There has always been a bounce back in a time of crisis, when they could have easily sunken their shoulders and disappeared. 

The electricity of this series has now been ratcheted up to 10.  Hit batsmen, lost opportunities, Neil Walker and Ike Davis, the Reds have had a fire lit under them. 

Who better to take the hill when needing a win than Johnny Cueto?  And who better to get some revenge on than an old friend?  Edinson Volquez has turned to the dark side; he’s become a Bucco.  Now, at 7:05 P.M. tomorrow, the two prized prospects who came up alongside each other square off for their respective clubs. 

It’s still April, but tell these guys these games don’t mean much.