As I took a seat and watched Pittsburgh Pirates Starting Pitcher Francisco Liriano rocket the first pitch across the plate on my television screen, I was not exactly sure what to expect.
After a boring top half of the first inning, I got a first glimpse of the effect of Pittsburgh’s home crowd on Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto.
Cueto made it through the first inning unscathed, but the jeers of rowdy fans screaming “Cueeee-toooooo” got to the 27-year-old. Pirates outfielder Marlon Byrd hit a homerun in his first career postseason at bat, and after that, Cueto struggled. Two batters later, Cueto served up another homer to catcher Russell Martin. Cueto finally got out of the second inning after allowing a couple singles, but the damage had been done.
After the Pirates tacked on another run with a sacrifice fly from third baseman Pedro Alvarez, outfielder Jay Bruce finally got the Reds on the board with an RBI single in the top of the fourth.
The Reds coaching staff proceeded to pull Cueto in the bottom of the fourth when the rattled hurler surrendered another hit that lead to a run being scored on second baseman Neil Walker’s double off of reliever Sean Marshall. The early exit was justified, considering that Cueto appeared unfocused and ineffective.
After Marshall walked the next two hitters, J.J. Hoover relieved him to stop the bleeding. Hoover did just that, but not before giving up another run on a Marlon Byrd RBI groundout.
The Reds only collected one hit over the next two innings. Outfielder Ryan Ludwick, who finished 3 for 4, seemed to be the only Reds hitter locked in at the plate. Reds pitchers Alfredo Simon and Manny Parra did a solid job of tempering the Pirates’ high-powered attack.
After the Reds failed to start a rally in the seventh, Martin hit his second homerun of the game to add an insurance run to the Pirates’ now substantial lead. Down 6-1, Reds centerfielder Shin-Soo Choo responded in the top of the eighth with a homerun. Ludwick proceeded to hit a double after Choo’s blast, but Reds first baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips recorded consecutive outs to obliterate the run-scoring opportunity.
After Sam LeCure kept the Pirates in check in the bottom of the eighth, Pittsburgh closer Jason Grilli toed the mound to secure the Pirates victory.
Though the game did not lack excitement, it certainly lacked a climactic ending. All in all, the Pirates outplayed the Reds.
Votto, Phillips, Bruce, Frazier, Cozart and catcher Ryan Hanigan, (the Reds’ 3-8 hitters), had a combined two hits in 22 at bats (a batting average of .090) with only 1 RBI. The meat of the batting order failed to click for the entire game, and occasional hits from Choo and Ludwick were not enough to get the offense going.
This victory should be memorable for the Pirates, not only for its historical significance but also for its consequence of inserting the Pirates into an intensely competitive National League Division Series against their bitter rival, the St. Louis Cardinals.