PITTSBURGH -- Coming off an ugly road trip and looking to secure their standing as a National League Wild Card contender, the Pirates received the strong start they sought Friday night at PNC Park from rookie Jameson Taillon. But it was Sean Rodriguez who punctuated Pittsburgh's series-opening win, swatting a walk-off solo homer and sending the Pirates to a much-needed 3-2 victory over the Reds.
Taillon's fifth straight quality start and some fifth-inning small ball gave the Pirates a one-run lead heading into the ninth. Still three games back in the Wild Card standings, Pittsburgh was three outs away from victory when new closer Tony Watson took the mound in the ninth. He let the lead slip away, but Rodriguez wouldn't let the tie last for long.
"Whether it's picking up Tony or picking up anybody else, it's just picking up a win," Rodriguez said. "That's the most important thing."
Rodriguez -- who entered the game in the eighth inning as a defensive replacement at first base, as usual -- led off the bottom of the ninth by ripping a 2-1 fastball from Ross Ohlendorf into the stands. It was Rodriguez's second career walk-off blast and the Pirates' third walk-off win of the season.
"It was a tough ending to a really well-played game," Reds manager Bryan Price said.
Taillon allowed one run on six hits and a walk while striking out six on a season-high 102 pitches over six innings. It wasn't enough for a win, as the Reds spoiled Watson's second save opportunity since being named closer, but it was another step forward for the rookie right-hander.
Reds right-hander Anthony DeSclafani nearly matched Taillon, continuing his strong season with six innings of two-hit ball. He allowed three walks and struck out six, but the Pirates got the best of him with a little fifth-inning small ball. David Freese walked, John Jaso doubled and Francisco Cervelli tied the game with a sacrifice fly. Up came Jordy Mercer, who perfectly executed a squeeze bunt, allowing Jaso to sprint home safely and give the Pirates a one-run lead.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED No save: For the first time since trading Mark Melancon, the Pirates rode their starter all the way to their new-look, late-inning trio. Left-hander Felipe Rivero pitched a clean seventh inning, striking out two batters. Setup man Neftali Feliz worked around two walks in the eighth, striking out Scott Schebler with a 100-mph fastball. That set up Watson's second save opportunity since the trade and his first at PNC Park since being named the new closer. But it didn't go as planned. Watson walked the leadoff man, and Ramon Cabrera's sacrifice fly to left field tied the game. Fortunately for Watson, Rodriguez's homer didn't allow his blown save to linger for long.
"Huge pick-up not only for me personally, but the team," Watson said. "That was a big win to start this homestand right."
Fast start: The Reds jumped on Taillon early with back-to-back first-inning singles by Zack Cozart -- who extended his hitting streak to 13 games -- and Joey Votto. Brandon Phillips smacked an RBI single that put the Reds on top 1-0.
Upon further review: At first glance, it appeared Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton robbed Jaso of extra bases with a runner on first and nobody out in the fifth. Jaso skied a fly ball to the outfield wall, and Hamilton came down with it. But the Pirates challenged the call, and a replay review revealed that Jaso's hit bounced off the wall before Hamilton reeled it in. After a two-minute, five-second review, Jaso was awarded a double and Freese was placed on third base. Cervelli promptly tied the game with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Triple digits: Taillon threw 100 pitches this season for just the second time, the first coming on May 9 for Triple-A Indianapolis. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said it was "just another mile marker on the road he's been traveling this year," and Taillon was happy to be given a longer leash on the mound. The rookie felt strong throughout the night, though he admitted to some welcome fatigue when he hit the weight room after his outing was over.
"Once that adrenaline wears off, it kind of starts hitting you," Taillon said. "I think I'll sleep pretty good tonight."
"He's so chill and calm and collected. If things go a little bit sideways, you can't tell with him. That's what is going to carry him a long way."-- Mercer, on Taillon
"I was right here [in the clubhouse], and just like everyone else in here, I think there were some curse words followed by, 'Yeah!'"-- Taillon, on the reaction to Rodriguez's walk-off homer
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Taillon walked Hamilton with two outs in the second inning, ending a 25-inning streak without a walk. Taillon's last walk came more than a month ago, on June 24, when the Dodgers' Scott Van Slyke took a free pass to lead off the fifth inning.
The home run by Rodriguez was the franchise-record 23rd home run that the Reds' bullpen has given up to the first batter they've faced. The previous franchise record was 20, recorded in both 2004 and 2009. The D-backs' bullpen is second this season with 15 homers allowed to first batters.
WHAT'S NEXT Reds: Returning from Tommy John surgery, right-hander Homer Bailey (1-0, 3.18 ERA) will make his second start of the season at PNC Park at 7:05 p.m. ET. Bailey tossed six innings and picked up the win at San Diego on Sunday, retiring 15 straight batters in one stretch.
Pirates: Right-hander Ivan Nova, acquired before Monday's Trade Deadline and effectively replacing veteran lefty Francisco Liriano, will make his Pirates debut on Saturday night at PNC Park. The right-hander was 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA in 21 appearances with the Yankees this season, going 6-5 with a 4.86 ERA in 15 starts.