PITTSBURGH -- The Reds' bullpen was a disaster area last season, producing the second-worst ERA in Major League Baseball and setting a big league record for home runs allowed. But Monday at PNC Park, the Reds bullpen not only was perfect, it set a modern-day mark for the game's oldest existing franchise.
Paced by former starter Michael Lorenzen, who bailed the Reds out of a bases-loaded jam that threatened to disintegrate an early four-run lead, Cincinnati relievers retired 21 straight Pirates hitters over the last seven innings to preserve a 7-1 win.
According to Elias, no Reds team had done such a thing post-1900.
Lorenzen pitched three innings, nine up, nine down, striking out three. Reds manager Bryan Price said he gave Lorenzen a "heads up" in the second inning to be ready in case teetering starter Brandon Finnegan went over the edge.
Which he did, failing to retire a batter in the third, giving up a run and leaving the bases loaded with none out for Lorenzen.
"If Lorenzen was gonna come in, it probably was gonna be in that type of a situation," Price said. "We needed someone that was gonna come in and throw strikes, and get lefties and righties out, and he fit the bill. And he gave us three beautiful innings, three perfect innings, and that set the tone for our ability to win the game."
The right-hander induced Josh Bell's fly out that was too short to score a run, and got Adam Frazier to hit into a force out at the plate. Up came pitcher Wade LeBlanc, on in relief of Pirates starter Tyler Glasnow, who lasted 1 2/3 unsightly innings.
It was LeBlanc's second trip to the plate as Pirates manager Clint Hurdle refused to compromise the rest of the bullpen. Finnegan had struck out LeBlanc with the bases loaded in the second inning. Lorenzen did the same thing in the third to end the threat.
Lorenzen pitched two more perfect innings. Cody Reed also retired nine straight and Wandy Peralta handled a spotless ninth.
Price acknowledged that his eight-man relief corps is unsung and unestablished, but what stands out is "the selfless aspect," he said.
"I'm not gonna try to put anybody in a position where they're not gonna succeed," Price said. "I'm gonna make sure everybody has a general idea of when they're gonna be used. But sometimes you have to be ready to pitch when it's your time to pitch and do something that's somewhat unpredictable."
Unpredictable and unprecedented.
"In order for this to work, they all have to be ready to do something similar to what Lorenzen did today," Price said. "That's not gonna be the norm, but in that situation, 5-1, bases loaded, pitcher struggling to pitch the ball over the plate, we needed somebody to give us a dynamic opportunity to escape that inning without a lot more damage, and Michael was that guy tonight."
Said Hurdle, "Lorenzen's in a good place right now, developing into that bullpen role. He gave them just what they needed."
Lorenzen, who went 4-9 with a 5.40 ERA as a starter in 2015 before moving to the pen, said he does not hope to return to the rotation. He said he "will" return. He mentioned during the game he wanted to go the distance.
In the meantime, Lorenzen said he is locked in on the task at hand.
"Mentally, I'm always ready to come in, waiting for that opportunity to do what I did today," he said. "I love stuff like that. So, I just went out there and had fun, and picked up Finnegan.
"We talked in Spring Training that the most important part of the game, it may be in the third inning. And today I felt it was. And so, I'm always ready when I see situations like that, and I'm kind of hoping if he calls down it's gonna be me, because I want to go in there and get the job done."