Pirates miss their chances, fall to Reds on tie-breaking homer in 9th
The Pirates knew they weren't going to get a lot of scoring chances Tuesday against Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto.
So it was especially frustrating when they stranded six runners and had three others thrown out on the basepaths in six innings against Cueto.
Yet, there still was hope.
“Sometimes, you don't beat (Cueto),” manager Clint Hurdle said. “But, if your pitcher gives you a good enough effort, they both leave the game with no mark, and you go to the bullpen.”
Cueto needed 119 pitches to get through just six innings, so his night ended early. He left with a three-run lead, and the Pirates exploited three relievers to tie the game in the seventh.
However, the Pirates' beleaguered bullpen was not perfect, either.
Closer Jason Grilli served up a titanic solo home run to Todd Frazier in the ninth inning, and the Reds pulled out a 6-5 victory.
Grilli missed with his first two pitches, a pair of sliders, so Frazier was waiting for the fastball.
“You can't fall behind the first guy you face, especially in a tie ballgame,” Grilli said. “Frazier's a guy who dives over the plate. It didn't work tonight.”
Said Frazier: “I figured I'd get the fastball and, luckily, I connected.”
Over the past four games, a span of 122⁄3 innings pitched, Pirates relievers have allowed 14 runs on 17 hits, including three home runs.
Cueto went into the game with a 1.85 ERA, second-best in the National League. In two starts against the Pirates in April, the righty yielded one run in 18 innings.
Tuesday was not Cueto's cleanest outing, though. He allowed two runs on seven hits and four walks. Cueto got two strikeouts, his lowest total in 15 starts.
“He was never totally locked in,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “But he found a way to give us six innings and gave us the chance to come back and get the lead.”
The Reds took a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning off right-hander Brandon Cumpton. Billy Hamilton lobbed a leadoff double into shallow left field, stole third and scored on Joey Votto's single.
In the second inning, with two outs and Russell Martin on first base, Cueto left a fastball up in the zone. Josh Harrison didn't waste it, and the ball clattered off the center field wall for a run-scoring double.
In the third, Andrew McCutchen's double down the third-base line extended his hitting streak to 12 games and put runners on second and third with one out. Back-to-back walks to Ike Davis and Martin gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
For a moment, it started to feel like the 2013 wild-card game again. Cueto seemed out of sorts and the crowd mock-chanted his name.
Alvarez popped a 2-1 cutter into shallow center field. McCutchen broke for home, but catcher Brayan Pena took Hamilton's throw and tagged McCutchen on the shoulder for a double play.
“He got me,” McCutchen said. “I knew it was going to be close. You're hoping the throw will be (off line) or take a bad bounce or something, but it wasn't.”
The lost opportunity loomed large in the fourth. The Reds used three straight hits to tie it then took a 3-2 lead on Pena's run-scoring grounder.
Harrison led off the sixth with a single and stole second but was thrown out trying to go to third on a ground ball to shortstop Zack Cozart.
“We jacked up (Cueto's) pitch count. We got in position to score, and we weren't able to capitalize,” Hurdle said. “It cost us in the end.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.