The first of 19 games between the Pirates and Reds this season took place at PNC Park tonight, with A.J. Burnett gracing the free shirt and also taking the mound for his third start. After last season, it’s probably safe to say that the Reds are the Bucs’ biggest rival and they’ll need to stick to to them if the plan on making a run for the NL Central. Not only did the Bucs win the game tonight, they made a statement.
Burnett was on his game for the most part, striking out 8 batters in 6 innings. Brandon Phillips pounced on him in the 2nd with a leadoff home run, but he mostly breezed through the Cincinnati lineup the first time around. Once they got an AB against A.J., the Reds started to make much more contact. Back-to-back singles followed by a groundout that worked as a bunt put runners on second and third with just one out, but Burnett was able to limit the damage to just one run. He K’d Reds starter Mike Leake, who left 4 runners on base, to end the inning.
The offense came out swinging against Leake in support of A.J. Starling Marte improve his streak of consecutive games with a leadoff hit to 6, and followed by stealing a base. After Neil Walker drew a walk, the 3 and 4 hitters were retired and it seemed like this would be another wasted opportunity to score. But Russell Martin came through with a clutch two-out RBI on just his 2nd hit as a Pirate. The 1-0 lead was negated by Phillips’ homer in following inning, but the Pirate sticks came right back. Two singles and a hit batter loaded the bases with one out in the 2nd inning as Neil came up to the plate. He singled to CF as two runs came into score and Marte, coming from 1st base, tested Shin-Soo Choo‘s arm as he slid safely into third. Walker took the extra base on the throw to complete the perfectly executed play. Cutch kept the offensive parade going with two RBIs of his own as the Bucs went up 5-1. Martin ended the inning with a double play, although he smoked the ball about as hard as possible to 3B, just bad placement.
That 5-1 lead held up until Devin Mesoraco knocked in a run with an RBI-groundout and then tagged Burnett for another in the 6th. Leaving A.J. out there for the 6th was a questionable call with his high pitch count, but it ended up only costing him one run. He gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks – a quality start for the veteran. With his 8 strikeouts came a lot of long drawn out at-bats that pushed his pitch count up early, so he couldn’t go any further past the 6th.
Tony Watson came out for the 7th – an understandable move with lefties due up first and third in the inning. After retiring Choo, Watson walked a batter and got Joey Votto to line out to LF. With everyone available and rested in the bullpen, leaving Watson in to face Phillips with a runner on was a terrible decision, and it backfired. Despite Cutch’s leap at the wall, BP tied the game with his second bomb of the game as the crowd died completely.
Luckily, Cutch was due to lead off the next inning. Who else would it be, really? After fouling off a few pitches from J.J. Hoover, he turned on a curveball and sent it into the LF bleachers for a go-ahead home run. With the crowd now very much back into the game, Garrett Jones doubled and Pedro late drew a walk, but the bottom of the order couldn’t add any insurance. Mark Melancon cruised through the 8th inning, not needing any insurance runs, anyway. Jason Grilli came out for the save and after getting two outs, got into some trouble as he walked Votto to put two runners on. Of course Phillips was next up, but Grilli fanned him to get the save and a huge win over the Redlegs.
Awesome win. Can’t wait to see them duke it out again tomorrow.
Pirates (4-6) – Reds (5-5)
Win: Watson (1-0)
Loss: Hoover (0-3)
Save: Grilli (4)