Many expected the Cincinnati Reds to fall to the lower echelon of the National League Central this season while the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs competed for divisional supremacy. Or at least a playoff spot.
For the most part that’s been the case. The Reds are 34-37, 13 1/2 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals and five games out of a playoff spot.
But in 28 games since Johnny Cueto dropped the ball, the Reds are 19-9 in 28 games against the Pirates. Last year, Pittsburgh went 7-12 against the Reds.
The only other team the Pirates lost 12 games to? The Brewers, who owned the Pirates in recent memory with 2013 as a lone exception leading into 2015.
While the Reds aren’t the contender they’ve been in years past, they still have the Pirates’ number on speed dial.
Pittsburgh fell to 2-7 against the Reds this season with Thursday’s 5-4 13-inning loss in which they led by two runs at the beginning of the seventh.
It was another uncharacteristic, inexplicable loss.
The Reds defeated Gerrit Cole Wednesday, the only team in the league that’s been able to consistently succeed against him. Cincinnati has beaten the Pirates in each of his three starts this year.
Like Cole, the Pirates bullpen has been dominant for most of the season. When leading after six innings, the Pirates were 35-3.
After Thursday, they were 35-4.
Arquimedes Caminero entered with a 4-2 lead and gave up two runs before he got an out. Joey Votto singled and advanced to third as Josh Harrison’s error allowed the ball to roll to the wall.
His position on the basepaths didn’t matter as Todd Frazier hammered a 99 MPH fastball Caminero left elevated over the heart of the plate for a game-tying home run.
“The guy was throwing heat and throwing hard,” Frazier said. “I get a fastball, I like to drive ‘em and I got a pitch to hit. I squared it up and that’s all I’m trying to do every at-bat.”
Frazier’s home run was his 24th of the season. He’s hit four home runs against three teams.
But he’s hit five home runs against only one team. Guess which one?
“He’s in the big leagues for a reason,” A.J. Burnett said. “They’re all good hitters. Don’t take anybody for granted.”
But some of them aren’t great hitters. Billy Hamilton is a weapon because of his legs and he’s stolen a league-high 36 bases this season, another coming Thursday.
Hamilton is a .245 hitter in his career. Against the Pirates, the light-hitting center fielder hits .324.
As the game proceeded to extra innings, the Pirates were primed to score in the 12th after Andrew McCutchen doubled and Neil Walker was intentionally walked. Jung Ho Kang ripped a ball directly at first baseman Joey Votto, who doubled Walker off at first.
Nothing the Pirates did Thursday would be enough.
“We went up there and swung the bats better later,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We couldn’t find grass.”
Against Aroldis Chapman in the 11th, the Pirates not only put the ball in play against the fireballing closer but made solid contact. But Josh Harrison was the only one to collect a hit with a single and the Pirates flew out three times to deep center field.
“We hit some balls hard,” Hurdle said. “Hit it to the deepest part of the park and it didn’t work out for us.”