If the first game of this three-game set was marked by the Reds getting breaks, the second was marked by the Pirates’ giving breaks to them. An error by Pedro Alvarez. A bad night at the plate from Andrew McCutchen. A bad read by McCutchen on Scott Rolen’s fly ball in the eighth inning. A huge tactical mistake by Jeff Bannister. The Pirates bounced back from most of these mistakes to pull even with the Reds twice, but eventually they just ran out of time last night. That’s what happens when you screw up against baseball’s hottest team.
Really, there were some encouraging things that took place last night. The Pirates got shut out by the Reds on Friday and fell behind 2-0 in the first inning last night and with the way James McDonald has been struggling and the emotions clearly running high in this series (Josh Harrison got hit by Mike Leake in a situation where it was pretty clearly unintentional, but said stared him down and exchanged words with him anyway; this lead to warnings for both dugouts, which lead to Clint Hurdle being tossed, which lead to Jeff Bannister managing, which I’ll say more about in a second), it would’ve been easy for things to fall apart. Instead, the Pirates evened things up and McDonald got an easy 1-2-3 second and the Pirates had tied the game up by the top of the third. The Reds put two more runs back up and I said to my dad that I thought maybe this one was headed for an 8-2 Reds win. Instead, McDonald really bore down and the Pirates chipped away and tied it back up. McDonald looked like his pre-All Star Break self last night; he struck out seven in six innings and only walked one and threw 61 strikes in 98 pitches. He was charged with three earned runs, but he probably only would’ve given up two without Alvarez’s first inning error. The Pirates needed a big start from him and they got one.
The game eventually hinged on Scott Rolen’s eighth inning triple. I don’t know what happened to McCutchen on the play. He followed the ball to the wall, but instead of making a jump for the ball at the wall, he just sat at the base of it while the ball bounced above him and riccocheted off. I don’t know if he lost the path of it in the lights or thought it was going over the fence or what, but the way he played it lead directly to Rolen’s triple. You could see McCutchen’s frustration with himself (he also went 0-for-4 and struck out twice against Mike Leake) in the dugout in the ninth; while the Pirates tried to rally against Aroldis Chapman he just sat there, bouncing balls off of the dugout floor. It wasn’t all his fault, of course (Travis Snider made an AWFUL throw into the infield when a good one would’ve likely gotten Rolen at third)
When Clint Hurdle came out in the second and got tossed arguing the warnings to both dugout, I figured that he was getting tossed intentionally to fire his players up. They lost last night and were losing early and pretty much the oldest manager trick in the book is to go out and get tossed and try to get the players to focus their anger into something else. That was all fine and good and maybe it even worked, but Jeff Bannister made what might’ve been a huge mistake after Rolen’s triple last night. In the top of the eighth, Bannister got Jason Grilli up in the bullpen to warm up, but elected to let Jared Hughes start the inning on the mound. That seemed like a fine idea; the bottom of the Reds’ order was due up and Hughes looked fine in the seventh and he was a starter in the minors, so two innings shouldn’t be a problem from him. The problem comes after the leadoff triple. Hughes is really great at doing exactly what he did after he gave up that triple, which is getting hitters to hit weak groundouts. That would’ve been fine after a leadoff double or triple, but with a runner on third you need a swing-and-miss pitcher like Jason Grilli (or, god forbid, Joel Hanrahan, but we all know you can’t use a closer in the game’s biggest spot if you don’t have a lead). Hughes got three tappers to end the inning, but Rolen scored easily on the first one. One run Reds’ lead, Chapman, time, game over.
Two games, two pretty disappointing losses. That leaves today. Losing two of three to the Reds isn’t the awful result that most Pirate fans will make it out to be, but it does require winning one game out of three. Against this Red team, that requires being a lot better than the Pirates were last night.