Heading in to 2012 it was 19-consecutive losing seasons since the Pirates have fielded a winning team in Pittsburgh. And after a painful loss from a blown save and a bad base running blunder, that streak was extended to twenty.
From where the Pirates were on July 28th — sitting at 58-42 and a season-high 16 games over .500, on pace to win 94 games — to where they are on September 30th has been a heartbreaking collapse. The team that was at once at the top the National League Central, to batting alongside St. Louis for the second spot in the Wild Card hunt just a few weeks ago, to needing to win six straight out to finish above .500, have seen it all slip away on Sunday.
“Nobody saw that coming,” Garrett Jones said, who belted his 26th long ball of the season in the loss. “Everyone’s pretty ticked off about it. Hopefully we can go into the offseason on a positive note and build from it.”
With a one-run lead heading into the ninth, the Pirates looked to their closer Joel Hanrahan to notch his 36th save of the season and send Pittsburgh their second straight win against Cincinnati. However, Hanrahan wasn’t as sharp as he’s been for most of the season.
The right-hander, who entered game action with just a 1.13 ERA in relief at PNC Park in his second year as the team closer, fell behind 0-2 to former Bucco Xavier Paul. The outfielder sailed the pitch to right field for a pinch-hit solo home run to tie the game up at 3. It was his first blown save since July 3rd against Houston. Hanrahan had notched 16 straight saves prior to Sunday.
“The last couple games I haven’t been able to put people away,” Hanrahan said. “I threw a couple sliders there, and I think he was sitting dead red. He leaned out over the plate and yanked it.”
With one-out, Hanrahan issued back-to-back doubles to allow Cincinnati to retake the lead. The Pirates had sported a 69-0 record after eight innings this season, but that streak was broken after they weren’t able to come back in the bottom of the ninth.
“He’s pitched extremely well for us for two straight seasons,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “As most closers go, I do think they’re adrenaline junkies and we haven’t been able to give him a lot of adrenaline along the way. I really think that would have really helped tighten him up and keep him in a better place…Today was one of the uncommon days that he’s had. Probably count a handful of them in two seasons. It was unfortunate. He feels as bad as anybody in there.”
“I think that’s hard to say really,” Hanrahan said of the lack of adrenaline. “I’ve still been pitching. It’s not like the pressure gets to me in that kind of situation there. I had a guy 0-2 and I didn’t put him away. You can’t do that here.”
A bad base running play proved to be costly in the loss, which sailed Pittsburgh to their 20th consecutive losing season. Jose Tabata drew a leadoff walk against left-hander Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the 9th. And after the pitcher’s pick off throw sailed into right field, Tabata took off on the base paths. After the game, Tabata said he didn’t see where the ball went, and relied on third base coach Nick Leyva for direction. After rounding the second base bag, Leyva motioned for Tabata to aggressively advance to third, but the throw was right on the money and Tabata was out in plenty of time.
“He was being waved,” Hurdle said. “You wait and see how the play develops. Once he was waved, he’s going. Obviously the guy got the ball early and made a throw, got there in the air. It turned out to be not a good decision.”
The Pirates attempted to rally by getting two runners on base in the frame, but rookie Starling Marte struck out swinging for the final out in their 82nd loss of the season.
“I’m disappointed,” Hurdle said. “Obviously one of my goals when I got here was to re-bond the city with a baseball team. To be a group of men to do that together collectively. It is disappointing. Especially where we were able to get to at a certain point in the year where we’re talking playoffs. Eventually we were still talking to Wild Card, things to hang on. Unfortunately they all got away from us.”
Rodriguez Finishes Pirates Season on Solid Note
Wandy Rodriguez was solid in his final start of the season for the Pirates. The left-hander held the Reds to just two runs over six frames with a walk and seven strikeouts. The start dropped his ERA to a season 3.76 mark, and a 3.72 ERA since Pittsburgh acquired him from Houston at the trade deadline.
“I expected him to be pretty good,” Hurdle said. “Just from what I’ve seen in the years that I’ve watched him. I’m glad he got to a comfortable place where he’s comfortable and aggressive. And really is the guy that we’ve seen and pitch effectively.”
“I feel good and very happy since I’ve been here,” Rodriguez said.
In his first four starts after the trade, Rodriguez allowed 15 earned runs over 24.2 frames. The veteran admitted that he originally tried to hard to make an impression in the deal that sent three prospects to Houston. After a two inning relief appearance in St.Louis, Rodriguez went on a roll allowing more than three earned runs just once, while tossing three shutouts over his final nine.
“After he got through his first two starts where he was really trying to evaluate some things, he’s been in a real good place with us on the mound,” Hurdle said. “To pitch for six innings, two runs, one walk, seven punch outs. The breaking ball came around in the middle of the game. It became very sharp. He competes. He likes being on the mound, and he likes going after people. He’s found a real good rhythm for us to finish off the season.”
The two runs that Rodriguez allowed on Sunday scored off him in the third. Back-to-back singles quickly put runners on the corners and no outs. Joey Votto lined a pitch from Rodriguez down the third base line that involved fan interference for an RBI double. Todd Frazier grounded out to short for the first out that drove in the second run. Rodriguez retired his next two straight, which included a strikeout looking to Chris Heisey to end the two-run frame.
From there, Rodriguez tossed three scoreless innings, retiring 9 of his final 10 batters.
“I felt pretty good,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what I did all game, just good location. I had a good breaking ball today…Every time I have the opportunity I go out there and try and do the best I can. That’s what I do with all my starts.”
Hurdle’s Positivity Stems From Adversity
Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle is as positive as it gets. His personality rubs off on everyone around him. But the club’s Manager for his second season hasn’t always been that way. It took a lot of adversity for Hurdle to change his mindset.
Drafted in the first round by Kansas City, Hurdle was labeled as a phenom at an early age. It was through his growth as a player, that’s allowed him to have a different approach.
“I faced a lot of adversity early on in my career that I found out what helped and what didn’t help,” Hurdle said. “I went to some places where I internalized, I isolated, I felt sorry for myself. Why me? This isn’t fair. They got me no where. Got me in worse places. I realized in my mid 20’s that I use on everything that I sign of or send, it’s make a difference today. I do it to help others.”
“I truly have embraced and embarked upon for the rest of my life a servant’s heart. Whether it be coaching, whether it be to my kids, wherever the next chapter in my life takes me. That’s what I share with those men. What a concept to be the best ballplayer you can be, and to also be the best man you can be. And that’s what we’ve really tried to do in this organization. A lot of times we stretch players out with different training methods and different principles and different thoughts. What a concept to be the best player you can be and the best man you can be? Sometimes the negative feedback that comes with that, that is kind of interesting as well.”