Hamilton produces early runs, but Reds miss opportunities

Speedster steals three vs. Lester, but Cincinnati 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position

Hamilton produces early runs, but Reds miss opportunities

CINCINNATI -- Reds speedster Billy Hamilton was more than willing to exploit Cubs ace Jon Lester's weakness at holding runners, and he seemed poised early to be a one-man run-manufacturing machine. When push came to shove in the later innings, however, runs that were begging to be scored were left uncollected.

Hence, the Reds gave away a 7-3 loss to the Cubs in 11 innings as they went 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position. They also struck out 16 times in the game, including 10 against Lester.

"Chances were definitely there. We just didn't execute," said Reds right fielder Jay Bruce, who was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.

A finger injury left Hamilton unable to start last week at Wrigley Field against Lester, who had not made a pickoff throw to first in nearly two years. Lester did finally make one in the April 13 game with Zack Cozart on base, and it was an error. With Hamilton in Friday's lineup, the lefty Lester was clearly an easy target.

In the bottom of the first inning, Hamilton started with a single through the middle and tested Lester immediately. He stole second base on the first pitch to Joey Votto and moved to third base on a wild pitch. Just like that, Hamilton was able to make it a 1-0 game by scoring on Votto's groundout to the shortstop.

Votto's RBI groundout

Hamilton led off the third inning with a single and stole second base with Votto batting and third base with Todd Frazier up. Hamilton scored on a Brandon Phillips groundout to shortstop for the two-run lead.

Phillips' RBI groundout

"It's always a good time to go. I will take advantage of anybody. It's not just Lester," Hamilton said. "I don't care who is up there. I want to do my best to get into position to score."

After Cozart's sacrifice fly in the fourth inning made it a 3-2 game, the Reds didn't score over the final seven innings while Hamilton also did not reach safely again. Cincinnati's bullpen was on the hook for the loss when Burke Badenhop gave up four runs in the 11th inning, but the offense had plenty of chances to prevent extra innings.

"We just weren't able to create any separation," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We kind of invited them back into the game."

Brayan Pena hit a leadoff double in the seventh and was left stranded, with Hamilton's strikeout ending the inning. The first two runners reached in the eighth before Phillips grounded into a double play and Bruce struck out. The bases were left loaded by Bruce with his popout in foul territory by third base in the 10th.

"I'm just missing pitches right now, that's the bottom line," said Bruce, who is batting .164 in 17 games. "The at-bats are not over when it needs to be. I'm getting behind in counts, and I'm not doing what I need to be doing."

Bruce was far from alone on that front Friday.

"We needed to push a run across," Price said. "That was a game that was there for us to win. We just weren't able to get it done."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.