Pirates come up short against Reds, 5-4

Rob Biertempfel
| Saturday, July 20, 2013, 9:15 p.m.

CINCINNATI — Small happenstances, plays that turned on quirks and misfortune, wound up working against the Pirates on Saturday in a 5-4 loss against the Cincinnati Reds.

“Such a fine line,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Sometimes you go on streaks, and you get those little breaks.”

This was not one of those times.

A bounce that barely cleared the outfield wall turned what could have been an RBI hit for Jordy Mercer into a ground-rule double that halted a runner at third base. A rain-soaked patch of infield dirt caused Andrew McCutchen to wipe out instead of cruise to a triple.

A sudden rain delay threw right-hander A.J. Burnett off his game in the first inning. A defensive lapse by third baseman Pedro Alvarez helped set up a four-run inning for the Reds. Burnett's only two walks in the game pushed across what proved to be a pivotal run.

“It was just a weird game,” said Mercer, shaking his head.

There was more to it than merely bad breaks. The Pirates stranded 12 baserunners and went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position.

“People say you can overthink it sometimes,” Mercer said. “You've got to throw that out the window, put the pressure on the (opposing) pitcher and take it off yourself. The more you think about it, the more it gets into your head. All we need is for a couple to fall; then we'll get going.”

Twice over the final two innings, a clutch hit would have tipped the balance toward the Pirates. Both times, they came up empty.

In the eighth, Travis Snider's pinch-hit, two-out double scored Mercer and pulled the Pirates within 5-4. Gaby Sanchez walked, and Starling Marte was hit by a pitch, loading the bases.

Logan Ondrusek came in to face Jose Tabata, who hit a routine grounder to snuff the threat. Tabata is hitless in his past 11 at-bats.

In the ninth, McCutchen was at third base and Alvarez was at first with nobody out. Closer Aroldis Chapman got Russell Martin on a pop up, then whiffed Michael McKenry and Mercer.

McCutchen endured a humbling moment in the seventh inning.

With one out and the Pirates trailing by two runs, McCutchen ripped a shot into the gap in right-center field. It would have been an easy triple — second baseman Brandon Phillips wasn't going to make a relay throw — but McCutchen fell midway between second and third bases, and was tagged out in a rundown.

“Maybe the dirt was a little soft or something,” McCutchen said. “I made a left turn, the dirt gave out just enough and I tripped over my left leg. What can you do?”

Rain suspended the game for 77 minutes before the bottom of the first inning. When play resumed, the Reds jumped on Burnett (4-7) for four runs.

“We all have our (pregame) routines, and I was nowhere close to my routine,” Burnett said. “But we're built to overcome and adapt.”

Shin-Soo Choo doubled. Chris Heisey reached on a bunt single. Burnett fielded the bunt and wanted to throw to third, but Alvarez was not at the bag and Burnett's toss to first base was late.

Joey Votto reached when his grounder scooted under second baseman Mercer's glove for an error, and Choo scored. Brandon Phillips lined an RBI single.

Jack Hannahan was hit by a pitch — “A hook in the foot,” Burnett called it — which loaded the bases. Zack Cozart hit a sacrifice fly, and Devin Mesoraco blooped an RBI double.

The Reds got sloppy in the second, when the Pirates came up with two runs. Garrett Jones led off with his ninth home run.

With one out, Clint Barmes reached on a strikeout-wild pitch. Burnett sacrificed him to second. Starling Marte walked. Tabata hit a grounder to shortstop, but Cozart's throw was wild. Barmes scored on the error.

Burnett was replaced after walking Votto with the bases loaded. Burnett worked 5 23 innings, allowed five runs (two earned) on 10 hits, walked two and struck out eight.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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