Pirates' error squanders opportunity as Reds win
Jordy Mercer said he has made the same play 100 times. Mark Melancon said Mercer makes the play 99 times out of 100. But Mercer didn't make the play Friday night.
The Pirates' defense has played a significant part in their 2013 season. But if the Pirates fail to advance to the postseason, even if they fall a game short of a division title or home-field advantage in a wild-card play-in game, it will not be the radical shifts and aggressive approach to run prevention that will be remembered. It will be Friday's error.
Mercer's ninth-inning throwing error started an unearned chain of events that led to a one-game, one-inning collapse — a 6-5, 10-inning loss to the Reds.
With a three-run lead in the ninth, Melancon needed one more out to give the Pirates a two-game lead over the Reds in the NL Central and wild-card standings. It was then Todd Frazier produced a seemingly innocuous groundball toward shortstop. Mercer charged and uncorked a wild throw. Ryan Ludwick scored, and Frazier advanced to second.
“I just tried to rush the throw, and I didn't get a grip on it,” Mercer said. “A terrible throw.”
Zack Cozart followed with a single, moving Frazier to third. Reds rookie speedster Billy Hamilton, who has been an impact player as a September call-up, pinch ran for Cozart. Hamilton immediately stole second — he is 10 for 10 in attempts this September — and scored from second on a two-run infield single by Devin Mesoraco. Mesoraco's chopper glanced off the Pedro Alvarez's glove and far enough away from the Pirates' infielders to allow Hamilton to tie the score at 5-5.
In the 10th, Joey Votto homered off Kyle Farnsworth, moving the Reds (88-66) into a second-place tie with the Pirates (88-66).
“We should have won that game,” Melancon said. “That was our game to win. But it doesn't kill us.”
Hurdle was not around to see Melancon blow his second save in three days, as the Pirates manager was ejected in the eighth.
The Reds and Pirates have a bean-ball history. Reds reliever Sam LeCure hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch high up on the shoulder in the eighth. LeCure had hit one batter since the start of the 2012 season.
“If you thought there was intent to hit, then you should have thrown the guy out (instead of warning benches),” Hurdle said.
Said Reds manager Dusty Baker: “You sort of wonder, they're leading the league in hit batsmen, but as soon as you come close to one of their guys, they say they pitch inside. Everybody needs to pitch inside.”
Hurdle said he was not in communication with his coaching staff after being ejected.
“I would not have done any different,” Hurdle said.
Mercer remained in the game despite Clint Barmes being available off the bench.
“It's only because Jordy made the error that we're even asking those questions,” Hurdle said. “He's finished about every game he's started.”
The blown save overshadowed another fine outing by Liriano.
Liriano struck out pinch hitter Chris Heisey for his 1,000th career strikeout in the eighth, which also marked the Pirates' 1,193rd strikeout of the season as a staff, a club record. Liriano allowed three hits and two runs over eight innings. He struck out seven and walked three.
The Pirates' offense put together a second straight strong offensive showing.
Jose Tabata began the game with a homer off Mat Latos. Neil Walker followed with his 12th homer of the season. In the fifth, Russell Martin and Mercer RBI singles gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead. Tabata added an RBI single in the seventh to increase the advantage to 5-2.