CINCINNATI -- The Pirates aren’t ready to wave the white flag. Not just yet.
Despite spotting the Reds a nine-run lead by the third inning, Pittsburgh stormed back to score 13 unanswered runs and take an historic 13-12 victory on Saturday night at Great American Ball Park that staved off a losing record with seven games to go.
It was quite the comeback -- in fact, it’s the largest the Pirates have completed in the franchise’s 142-year history, per Elias. Coming into the game, they were 0-819 when trailing by nine runs or more.
Pittsburgh’s win was a gut punch to the Reds, who fell to 2 1/2 games behind the Cubs for the final National League Wild Card spot. Cincinnati holds the tiebreaker over Chicago and Arizona (which is three games up on the Reds), but the team also has to leapfrog the Marlins to make the playoffs.
“It feels good tonight. I’m just really proud of our group,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “I would say it’s right at the top. … Walk-offs at home are really special, but with this group, this late in the year, to do that, yeah, this ranks right at the top.”
Things felt bleak early on for the Pirates. Even the players admitted as much. They never lost faith, though, and slowly but surely chipped away.
After clawing back a run in the fourth on Alfonso Rivas' RBI single, the Pirates started the comeback in earnest once they chased Reds starter Connor Phillips, who struck out nine batters over five-plus dominant innings. Once Alex Young came in, Ji Hwan Bae and Joshua Palacios lined RBI singles to right before Bryan Reynolds crushed an opposite-field three-run homer that cut the deficit to three in the sixth.
“It’s funny because [hitting coach Andy] Haines was standing right next to me, and he goes, ‘He hits a homer here, this is going to get real,’” Shelton said. “He hit a homer, and it got real. I give them credit, man. They battled their butts off.”
The Pirates’ rally picked up right where it left off in the seventh, as the first four batters reached base, capped off by Rivas’ bases-clearing double to tie the game. Although they didn’t take the lead that inning, the team had taken the air out of the crowd and felt that it recaptured its momentum.
The top of the eighth was much of the same, with six of the first seven batters reaching base, highlighted by RBI singles from Jack Suwinski and Rivas, plus a two-run double from Bae. That made it the second game during this four-game winning streak that the Pirates have scored a baker’s dozen.
Though the Pirates were mathematically eliminated from making the postseason -- they lose a tiebreaker to both the Cubs and D-backs, both of whom already have 81 wins -- they've been encouraged by their recent run of strong play.
“We’re playing really good baseball right now,” said Reynolds, who increased his on-base streak to 21 games. “But we’ve been doing it for a decent bit now, feels like. We’re just going to keep going and keep getting better and set it up well for whatever the future holds.”
Being able to score runs in bunches was obviously key to the comeback, but what’s missing from the box score were the excellent defensive plays.
Cincinnati was threatening in the eighth inning after cutting the deficit to two. With runners on first and second and one out, catcher Endy Rodríguez made a crucial block on a ball in the dirt. That kept the runners from advancing and put Bae in position to make a diving stop on a shot up the middle before turning a last-second, inning-ending double play.
The rookie Rodríguez again showed his veteran savvy in the ninth, when he went out for a mound visit with Carmen Mlodzinski after the Reds put their first two batters on in the ninth. Although TJ Friedl pulled Cincinnati within a run on a double, Mlodzinski was able to close out his first MLB save by striking out Elly De La Cruz and getting Jonathan India to fly out.
“I just feel like that’s the new culture we want to set going forward,” said third baseman Jared Triolo, who went 4-for-5 with three runs. “It was a really fun game to play in, probably really fun to watch as well.”