After early tension, Bucs edged late in Cincy

After early tension, Bucs edged late in Cincy

After early tension, Bucs edged late in Cincy
CINCINNATI -- In one inning, they were already down by two runs. In another half-inning, they lost their manager, and very nearly their temper and patience. In due time, everyone in Great American Ball Park would be losing their breath.

After the whole nine, the Pirates had also lost a game, 5-4, that at the same time both widened and tightened the NL Central race.

After game veteran Scott Rolen led off the bottom of the eighth with a triple off Jared Hughes (2-1) and seconds later broke a 4-4 tie on Todd Frazier's infield chopper, the Reds had opened up a 5 1/2-game division lead on the Pirates.

But the competitors are combative peers, as another taut battle between them proved. Most of the night you could cut the tension with a dull butter knife.

This is how marginal it was, what it came down to: Pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez put up a nine-pitch duel with Aroldis Chapman, with two outs in the ninth and the tying run in scoring position. Sanchez lost the duel, on strikes, so the Bucs lost the game.

"Sanchez put up a real good battle," said manager Clint Hurdle who, like most people in the country, viewed the battle on television following his second-inning ejection. "Some of those pitches ... I don't think you can hit. But he fouled them off, kept fighting."

"You got two teams battling for the top spot, in a close race. Tensions will flare," said Josh Harrison, who responded to an early challenge from Mike Leake with a homer and then singled to put the ninth-inning move on Chapman. "The beauty of this game is we can come back tomorrow and put the last two days behind us."

The wait for the sequel to Chapman's Friday night 101-mph fastball off Andrew McCutchen's left shoulder was brief, the outcome unexpected. Leake plunked Harrison on the left thigh with two outs and none on in the second -- and that's when plate umpire and crew chief Brian Gorman issued warnings to both benches, raising Hurdle's ire. Within minutes, Gorman raised his thumb.

"The eighth hitter [in the lineup] got hit, and there was no warning before the game," Hurdle said. "I tried to encourage him to just let everyone go play."

In another uphill game, the slope left by another uneven start by James McDonald, the Pirates caught the Reds at 4 in the sixth thanks to another of those unconventional plays of which they have been taking advantage all trip. This time, it was a one-out strikeout, of Pedro Alvarez. Catcher Dioner Navarro couldn't handle Leake's breaking pitch, either, and as Alvarez reached first on the wild pitch, Garrett Jones, who had doubled, moved to third. That sequence enabled Jones to score on Travis Snider's "two-out" sacrifice fly.

Both starting pitchers were done after that sixth, and it was a true draw. McDonald allowed four runs and seven hits while walking one and striking out seven; Leake allowed four runs and six hits while walking one and striking out seven.

Michael McKenry, instantly validating his promotion into the fifth spot in the batting order, led off the second with a homer, his 11th, to cut into Cincinnati's early 2-0 lead, and the Pirates tied it the next inning on Alex Presley's leadoff triple and a sacrifice fly by Neil Walker.

In the third, Ryan Ludwick's RBI double snapped the 2-2 tie before Frazier's run-scoring single made it 4-2.

The Bucs got within a run on both a satisfying and memorable swing by Harrison. His fourth-inning home run was a neat take-that for Leake, and was the first career hit in Great American Ball Park for the proud Cincinnati native.

"You could say it felt good. I was just battling, and he threw a pitch I tried to barrel up," said Harrison on his way out of the clubhouse to meet up with the 29 friends and family members who were part of the sellout crowd of 41,577.

McDonald nearly began with a stirring escape. After Zack Cozart led off the first with a single and third baseman Alvarez threw away Drew Stubbs' bunt single for an error, Reds runners were on second and third with none out. They were still there with two outs: McDonald fanned both Jay Bruce and Ludwick.

"He got in that hole, and almost wiggled out of it," Hurdle said.

After the strikeout of Ludwick, McKenry made a brief mound visit.

"Just wanted to slow down his heartbeat," the catcher said. "He'd just gotten a couple of huge outs."

However, McDonald then threw a thigh-high first pitch to Rolen, a notorious early-count hitter. In Friday night's series opener, in three at-bats he had seen a total of six pitches. Sure enough, Rolen lined the pitch to right for a 2-0 lead.

Down two runs, the Bucs were quickly also down two hit-batters as their early-evening just kept getting better. Mere minutes later, their shortstop got hit with a pitch and the Pirates were warned. Well, Gorman warned both benches about further target practice, but the Pirates didn't consider that just, leading to Hurdle's ejection.

"I just wanted to defend our club," Hurdle said. "I was taking a stand. I felt we were getting the short end of the stick."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.