Reds rout Pirates, 11-3, move back into 2nd-place tie
For the first time in years, Pirates fans were as excited for the last home game of the regular season as they were for the first, but the buzz at PNC Park on Sunday didn't last long.
A sellout crowd of 38,699 booed as starter Jeff Locke and his teammates left the field after the top of the first inning trailing by five runs in an eventual 11-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds, with whom the Pirates are battling for wild-card position — both teams are 89-67 — scored five runs on three hits in the first inning. Jay Bruce delivered a three-run double, and Todd Frazier cracked a two-run homer.
The Reds have won four out of the past six meetings against the Pirates, who went 5-6 on their final homestand of the season. The Reds return home to host the New York Mets.
The Pirates travel to Chicago to face the Cubs before ending the season with three games in Cincinnati.
“Our goal is still the division (title), but if that's not the case we're going to continue to battle and do what we need to do to make the playoffs,” said Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, whose third-inning home run was his second in three games.
After the Pirates squandered a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning Friday and lost in extra innings, A.J. Burnett lifted his team to a 4-2 win Saturday. Locke couldn't follow in the footsteps of his Burnett, his mentor.
“You try to avoid the big inning as much as you can,” Locke said. “Unfortunately, the big inning came in the first.”
Locke didn't return for the second inning. With the rotation and the Pirates' postseason still up in the air moving forward and a day off on Thursday, Sunday could have been it for the 25-year-old left-hander this year.
Manager Clint Hurdle said after the game that they'll have that discussion beginning on Monday.
If so, it would end a disappointing second half for Locke after his All-Star performance in the first half. After going 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA in the first half of the season, Locke is 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA since the All-Star break.
“Every time you think you're inching back forward to string two, three, four starts together, we hit a road bump,” said Locke, whose one-run, seven-inning outing against the Cubs on Sept. 12 was his best of the second half. “That's what's been most frustrating in the second half, just that every time you think you might have that outing that will get you back on track, you fall back down the hill again.”
Jeanmar Gomez took over for Locke and gave up two runs on Chris Heisey's RBI double and a sacrifice fly by Brandon Phillips.
Brandon Cumpton and Stolmy Pimentel combined to pitch five scoreless innings, but Vin Mazzaro gave up three runs in the eighth, and Jared Hughes allowed one in the ninth.
The Reds' Billy Hamilton, making his first start of the series in center field, singled twice, doubled and reached on an error. He stole two bases and is 12 for 12 in steal attempts since his Sept. 2 promotion from the minors.
The Pirates pushed Reds starter Bronson Arroyo's pitch count to 56 after two innings, but after Walker's home run, they made just one more push.
Travis Snider hit a leadoff pinch-hit home run in the fifth. Arroyo (14-11) plunked Jose Tabata in the elbow, and Walker doubled to the right-field corner to put two in scoring position with no outs.
Andrew McCutchen, 0 for 18 in his past four games, popped out. Justin Morneau's sacrifice fly scored Tabata and made it 7-3. Marlon Byrd flied out to right to end the inning.
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