Things got out of hand in a hurry at PNC Park Sunday afternoon. It was the Pirates final home game of the regular season, and the Cincinnati Reds scored five times in the first inning off Jeff Locke to take an early, commanding lead en route to a 11-3 victory over the Bucs.
“The one ball got through the left side, then we had too many misses,” Locke said. “He walked three and four, and then through the next two batters balls were just left over the middle of the plate.”
Locke (10-7) threw just 27 pitches in the frame, and allowed five runs on three hits and two walks, and struck one batter out.
“Everything happened pretty fast,” Locke said. “A hit, a few walks, a big hit by Bruce, and then home by Frazier. Before I knew, Arroyo was up and it was my last hitter.”
Cincinnati opened its lead to seven runs in the second, as Billy Hamilton reached on a bunt single, stole second, and reached on a double by Chris Heisey. Heisey scored on a sacrifice fly to deep center.
The Pirates were able to respond in the ensuing innings as Brandon Cumpton worked three scoreless frames.
Neil Walker hit a solo home run leading off the third, and pinch-hitter Travis Snider hit a pinch-hit home run to start the home half of the fifth. After Jose Tabata was hit by a pitch, and Walker doubled, Justin Morneau hit a sacrifice fly to right field that scored Tabata and pulled the Pirates within 7-3.
That was the closest they would get, though, as the Reds tacked on three runs in the eighth and another one in the ninth to effectively take the Pirates out of any proximity to strike.
In the top of the ninth, Hurdle replace McCutchen in the field with Marte and the Pirates’ MVP candidate received a rousing ovation from the sellout crowd of 38,699 as Hurdle gave his superstar a message.
“Same message, I gave to him last year,” Hurdle said. “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
The sellout was no. 23 on the season out of a possible 80 home-dates, and the Pirates set the club’s second-best all-time attendance mark with 2,256,862 people coming through the turnstiles this season. In 81 home games, Pittsburgh went 50-31 and averaged 28,211 attendants per home game.
“It was a wonderful home season,” Hurdle said. “I do think with each of the passing three years we’ve continued to build this fanbase. You’ve got a whole new generation of Pirate fans growing up, we’ve been able to remove some of the angst from the other ones and bring them back in as well.”
For native son Neil Walker, the re-connection of a city to its baseball team holds special meaning. In Walker’s eyes, the support this season was “fantastic.”
“We knew we would get to this point again,” Walker said. “We think there’s going to be many, many more games and series moving forward not just the rest of this year but going into next year for people to come out and show their support. It’s noticed on this side and much appreciated.”
The team noticed, and so did Hurdle. The characteristics of the city are some he sees in his own team, as shown through the Pirates 2013 season that came after two in which they ‘collapsed’.
“It’s a team they know they can be proud of. It’s a team that represents the city, you get knocked down, you get back up, you play hard, every day you want to finish what you start, you pass the baton, you respect the game, you fear nothing.”
“You show up for one another, and our city shows up for another,” Hurdle said. “Fan base has definitely shown up for us this year.”
While the fan support was a positive, the loss leaves Pittsburgh in a tie for the wild card slot with Cincinnati as each team holds a record of 89-67. The Pirates play three in Chicago this week, then finish their season in Great American Ballpark next weekend.
“We’ve just gotta figure out how to win games,” Walker said. “We’re not thinking about what anyone else is doing except for ourselves.”