Let’s not dwell too much on this one. The Cincinnati Reds hit four solo home runs, three of which would have flown out even in larger ballparks, plus Mike Leake and Co. frustrated the Pirates again by keeping them hitless with runners in scoring position. There are three games to go and all are very important if the Bucs do not want to fall further behind in the NL Central stampede.
Homer No. 1 — Russell Martin gives Francisco Liriano a spot low and inside with a 2-2 count. Instead, Liriano hangs a slider down the middle for Zack Cosart to demolish into the upper deck, the first home run allowed by the left-hander this year.
Homer No. 2 — Liriano leaves a sinker middle-middle to Todd Frazier for another deep home run to left field, Frazier’s 9th of the year.
Homer No. 3 — Reliever Bryan Morris doesn’t throw a bad slider, but it catches enough of the plate for Joey Votto to hit it opposite field, where it drops over the fence for a pretty cheap home run. The Pirates will probably get a cheap home run themselves before the series is over.
Homer No. 4 — Two batters later, fellow power-hitting lefty Jay Bruce unloads on a slider Morris left, say it with me, right down the middle.
Four home runs on three mistakes. The Pirates had opportunities against Leake and then hard-throwing young lefty Tony Cingrani, but struggled to an 0-for-8 total with runners in scoring position. Russell Martin drove in Pittsburgh’s lone run by smacking a double into the right-center-field gap, giving speedy Andrew McCutchen enough time to floor it and score.
There were other moments in this game of note. In what might have been the best catch of the Pirates season, Starling Marte sprinted, tracked down and dove to rob Brandon Phillips of an RBI early. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle called for Jordy Mercer to hit a sacrifice bunt in the 7th inning with the Bucs down one run. Despite “working,” it lowered their win expectancy by more than three percentage points. Old habits die hard, and Hurdle should have let his new starting shortstop swing the bat like he has done so well in the last week.
Leake hit Andrew McCutchen to start the 4th inning, but it seemed rather innocuous. It didn’t hit McCutchen in the head [I originally said high] and the game was still scoreless at that point. However, with a three-run lead in the 9th, Reds flamethrower Aroldis Chapman buzzed back Neil Walker with a fastball. If the Pirates wanted to respond in kind, they had no chance to Monday evening. McCutchen and Martin were the only Pirates with multiple hits.
There are more important tasks to accomplish this series than try to “prove a point” with a violent pitch, but damned if Chapman’s tight fastball didn’t tick off many Pirates fans. The Reds continue to beat and embarrass the Bucs in Cincinnati, and you can bet the Pittsburgh side wants to put an end to both.