Pirates rally admirably, but missed chances haunt
Behind Burnett's 'gutsy' start, Bucs strand 12, go 0-for-10 with RISP
CINCINNATI -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sat in the visiting skipper's office at Great American Ball Park after a 5-4 loss to the Reds on Saturday and recalled all the plays that could have turned the game in his team's favor. From a one-hour, 17-minute weather delay that threw starter A.J. Burnett off his rhythm to a ground-rule double that would have scored a run if it had just stayed in play, none of the breaks or bounces seemed to go Pittsburgh's way.
But that's baseball, Hurdle said, and all you can do is keep playing.
"Sometimes you go on streaks and you get those little breaks," Hurdle said. "It's such a fine line. The craziness of this game is, every time a game is played, the team that loses will talk about the three or four things that could have happened and you could have won the game. Every game that's played almost."
So that's what Hurdle did, and from the beginning of Saturday's game until the very end, there seemed to be too many of those moments for him to rattle off all of them.
Still, Pittsburgh had every chance to win in the late stages against Cincinnati.
Trailing, 5-3, heading into the eighth, the Pirates cut the lead to one on a Travis Snider pinch-hit RBI double off of Alfredo Simon, who walked a batter and hit another to load the bases with two outs. Jose Tabata then came to the plate against Logan Ondrusek with a chance to tie or take the lead but instead grounded out softly to second base to end the threat.
In the ninth, Andrew McCutchen beat out an infield single for his fourth hit of the game to lead off the inning and advanced on a bad pickoff attempt from Aroldis Chapman before Pedro Alvarez reached on a fielding error to put runners on first and third with no outs. But Chapman got Russell Martin to pop out and struck out Michael McKenry and Jordy Mercer -- the last on a 102-mph fastball -- to send the Pirates to their third straight loss dating back to before the All-Star break.
"We got ourselves in as good of a position as you could want at first and third with no outs," Hurdle said. "We weren't able to get the run in then; we had multiple opportunities before then. At the end of the day, when you leave a  up there, more often than not it has a tendency to bite you."
Hurdle was referring to the 12 runners left on base by the Pirates, who went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, marking the second day in a row Pittsburgh went 0-for-RISP.
The Pirates began Saturday's game squandering an opportunity with two men on and one out in the first. And with rain and potential severe storms threatening, the game started on time but was delayed when the winds picked up and rain started to fall before the bottom of the inning could begin.
An hour and a half after the game officially started, Burnett finally threw his first pitch. His second offering was sent to left-center field for a leadoff double by Shin-Soo Choo that sparked a four-run inning for Cincinnati, which capped it off with a Devin Mesoraco RBI double.
Although Burnett said the delay threw him off some, he didn't attribute it to his struggles.
"We all have routines, so that was nowhere close to my routine, but I felt like I was ready to go," Burnett said. "We're built to overcome, to adapt, and we did what we could today."
Fortunately for the Pirates, Reds starter Mat Latos also came out flat after the delay. Pittsburgh tagged Latos for two runs in the second, the first of which came on a leadoff homer from Garrett Jones. Two batters later, Clint Barmes reached thanks to a wild pitch on strike three and advanced to second on a Burnett bunt. After a Starling Marte walk, Barmes scored when shortstop Zack Cozart missed on a throw to second that would have led to the third out of the inning.
"The whole bullpen picked me up today, and the offense, with the four early runs off a good pitcher," Latos said.
Pittsburgh tacked on its third run of the game in the fourth on a McCutchen home run. However, it was the fourth straight solo shot of the series for the Pirates, who have hit 13 of their last 15 homers with the bases empty.
Meanwhile, Burnett settled in after his rough, weather-delayed first inning. He made it through the second on 10 pitches before striking out the side in the third and working around a leadoff double in the fourth.
Following a scoreless fifth, Burnett once again ran into trouble in the sixth, when he loaded the bases with a two-out walk. A second consecutive walk, to Joey Votto, brought Cozart home from third and ended Burnett's day after 5 2/3 innings.
Although the Reds scored all five of their runs with Burnett on the mound, only two of them were earned. The 36-year-old right-hander allowed 10 hits while striking out eight and walking just the two batters in the sixth.
"I think what A.J. did is show everybody here how you deal with adversity," Hurdle said. "And at the end of the day, after four pitches, we could have had two outs and one run in [in the first inning]. He didn't let that get him down. He said, 'Boys, keep playing. I'm going to get us six,' and he did everything he could to get us as close to six today as you could have asked. It was a gutsy performance by him."
McCutchen in the seventh almost sparked another rally with what would have been an easy one-out triple to the gap in right-center field. After rounding second, though, McCutchen tripped and was eventually tagged out in a rundown in a play that epitomized the Pirates' day offensively.
With the loss, Pittsburgh has dropped seven of its last 10 and fell to 56-39 as it tries to keep pace with St. Louis while also fighting off the Reds, who are now just two games behind the second-place Pirates in the National League Central.
Despite the fact Hurdle's team hasn't opened the unofficial second half of the season the way he would have liked, neither he nor his players seemed discouraged by the events of the last two days.
"We fought uphill all game today and gave ourselves opportunities to come and win the game," Hurdle said. "So the fight's there, the attitude's there, the effort's there. The continued challenge is always going to be meeting the demands of the game, and today we didn't meet the demands of the game presented to us often enough to get us on top of them, and then to be able to stay on top of them."