PITTSBURGH -- As soon as the ball came screaming off Gregory Polanco's bat at 95 mph, bound for the gap in right-center field, Josh Bell thought he would score from first base. He rounded second base as Corey Dickerson crossed the plate, got the green light from third-base coach Joey Cora and slid home, only to be stopped and tagged out by Reds catcher Curt Casali.
Despite Joe Musgrove's first rough start in a Pirates uniform, Pittsburgh came that close to erasing a five-run deficit, stealing a win from Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon and sweeping a three-game series for the first time since April. Instead, the Bucs were dealt an 8-6 loss at PNC Park.
"A sweep would have been nicer, but this was a step forward," Musgrove said. "We'll continue to move on from here."
Trailing by two with two outs in the eighth inning, Dickerson and Bell strung together consecutive singles. Polanco doubled to right-center, his third hit of the day. Center fielder Billy Hamilton cut off Polanco's hit and fired a quick relay throw to shortstop Jose Peraza, who got the ball to Casali in time for the catcher to drop his shin guard on top of the plate, tag out Bell and prevent the tying run from scoring.
"I don't think it matters once he catches the ball. He's got the right to do whatever he wants to do, block the plate or whatever," Bell said. "I was just thinking head-first slide before he caught it, so it was just too late for me to redirect or think anything else at that point."
If Bell had tied the game, the Pirates likely would have called upon closer Felipe Vazquez in the ninth inning. Down a run, they gave the ball to right-hander Edgar Santana. The Reds added insurance runs on Scott Schebler's two-run homer, and that proved to be vital as Austin Meadows drove in a run in the bottom of the ninth.
"If it's tied, that's Vazquez in the game in the ninth for them," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "That was a huge play."
Musgrove, who began the day with a 2.16 ERA in four starts, allowed the Reds' first six runs. The right-hander gave up eight hits and a walk while striking out six over 4 1/3 innings. His four-seam fastball velocity dipped from a season average of 93.9 mph to just 92.4 mph on Sunday, which he attributed to the 86-degree heat at first pitch.
"I felt OK. That's my first day game in awhile. Just trying to get my body alert," Musgrove said. "It was hot out there. I felt drained. But that's something I'm aware of now, and that's something I'll try to prepare for. Talking to [Jameson Taillon] -- he's got a pretty good track record with day games -- [about] how he keeps his energy up and keeps life on his ball throughout the innings, that's something I'll make an adjustment on."
Musgrove began the day with two perfect innings and took a 1-0 lead into the third after Colin Moran homered, but Casali led off the third with a single to right field and later scored on a Schebler groundout to tie the game. Peraza then laced a two-out single to right field to score Hamilton and put the Reds in front. Eugenio Suarez hit a two-run homer on a cutter left over the plate in the fourth, and Joey Votto smoked a two-run double off the wall in right-center to end Musgrove's day in the fifth.
"I don't feel like I'm lost right now. I still feel really good," Musgrove said. "I wasn't very sharp today, but that can happen on any given day. I just don't think I competed very well with my pitches when I had runners in scoring position. … I'll go back to work, but this team's going in the right direction. I think we're playing good ball."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Votto-matic: Battling the heat, decreased velocity and unintentional cut on his fastball, Musgrove continued to struggle in the fifth, particularly against Cincinnati's left-handed hitters. Hamilton, who went 3-for-4, hit a single to right. Musgrove walked Schebler. Peraza reached on a bunt that Musgrove couldn't field in time. Up came Votto with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Musgrove's first pitch was a 93.5-mph fastball inside. The second was an inside cutter that Votto crushed off the wall with an exit velocity of 100 mph. That extended the Reds' lead to 6-1 and prompted manager Clint Hurdle to remove Musgrove.
"I thought it was a good pitch. He just put a better swing on it," Musgrove said. "It was in, but when you're not able to control the inside part of the plate with your four-seam and really drive it through that spot, it makes it hard to work off of that and execute your other pitches."
The loss prevented the Pirates from completing their first three-game sweep since taking three against the Cardinals from April 27-29. The Pirates have not swept the Reds since the final series of the 2013 season.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Polanco's performance was the best part of the day for Pittsburgh. The struggling right fielder began the day batting .200 but finished with three hits, a walk and his first homer since May 12. That solo shot to center came with a big smile on Polanco's face, too, because he hit it in front of his parents -- fittingly on Father's Day. His father celebrated accordingly in the stands as Polanco pointed his way while crossing home plate.
"My agent sent me a video after I hit the homer. I saw him jumping around," Polanco said. "That was special. It was … him proud, my dad having fun."
HE SAID IT
"I've had his back through all of this, because I believe he's a good ballplayer and I believed the swing was going to come back out. We'll see. Time will tell. We can sit here and talk all day about what might happen. He's going to get the opportunity to go out and hit. It's going to happen or it's not going to happen. I believe it's going to happen." -- Hurdle, on Polanco's encouraging day at the plate
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
On the play at the plate, the Pirates asked for a review to determine if Bell was out and whether Casali violated the home plate collision rule. The out call stood, and the non-violation of the home plate rule was confirmed.
Casali gave Bell a lane before he had possession of the ball, and what he did after catching it -- dropping down in front of the plate -- was perfectly legal. By that point, however, Bell had decided to slide and couldn't evade Casali.
"He gave me a lane, 100 percent, before he caught the ball, or at least that's what I felt," Bell said. "[Trying to run over Casali] wasn't anything that crossed my mind on that given play, but it just ended up how it did."
Right-hander Trevor Williams will try to get back on track after a rough stretch as the Pirates open a three-game series with the Brewers on Monday at 7:05 p.m. ET at PNC Park. Williams has posted an 8.57 ERA with a .939 opponents' OPS over his last five starts. Jhoulys Chacin is set to start for Milwaukee.