Game slips out of Cueto's hands
Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker must have said at least a dozen times in the past five days that big games always come down to pitching.
He said it all weekend as the Pirates swept his team in Cincinnati to earn the right to play at PNC Park, and he said it again hours before the Reds took the field in the National League wild-card game.
Baker was right — it did come down to pitching. That turned out to be a bad thing for the Reds.
While Francisco Liriano was dealing for the Pirates, Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto gave up four runs (three earned), including two home runs, on seven hits in just 3 1⁄3 innings before Baker pulled the plug. The Reds' season already was circling the drain with the Pirates cruising toward an eventual 6-2 win.
“You know, all the balls they hit were up over the heart of the plate,” Baker said. “He only threw a couple really good sliders. ... I mean, all night, for the last week, we've been throwing the ball down the heart of the plate. You got to keep it out of the plate.”
The crowd of 40,487 — the largest in PNC Park history — was on Cueto from the beginning, chanting “Cue-to” even before he gave up the first home run of the second inning to Marlon Byrd.
Just before he gave up a home run to Russell Martin, as the chants grew louder, Cueto simply dropped the ball. Literally.
Cueto was on the rubber when the ball fell out of his hand and rolled away.
Martin had to stand and wait while Cueto walked off the mound and retrieved it.
Then, after the next pitch, Cueto had to stand and wait while Martin rounded the bases.
Cueto said the crowd didn't bother him.
“I don't care about those things. I don't listen to them,” he said. “That doesn't scare me. … When you're pitching, you don't listen to fans. You just concentrate and see the hitter.”
About the dropped ball ...
“You may think I was scared when that ball dropped, but that ball dropped,” he said.
Baker visited the mound in the third inning after Cueto gave up a single to Andrew McCutchen. An error by shortstop Zack Cozart put runners on first and third. The right-hander got out of the inning, but a one-out double by Starling Marte was all Baker had patience for in the fourth inning.
Baker brought in Sean Marshall to replace the man who in recent years had been the Reds' workhorse and their ace.
Now, the Reds' third postseason appearance in four seasons is over without a trip to the World Series. Brandon Phillips said they let the city down.
“Whatever negative thing (the city of Cincinnati) has to say about us now, they can say it because we deserve it,” Phillips said. “We choked. We did. I don't really care how people feel or how my teammates feel about what I'm saying right now because it's the truth. Either you win or you go home, and I'm going home. The last place I want to be is on my couch.”