The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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July 21, 2013

Pirates squander chances in second loss to Reds

CINCINNATI — A.J. Burnett got warmed up but had to wait more than an hour before throwing his first pitch. Andrew McCutchen fell while going for a triple and got tagged out. The Pirates got two runners aboard with none out in the ninth but couldn’t score.

It was that kind of game.

Aroldis Chapman escaped a two-on threat in the ninth inning Saturday, preserving the Cincinnati Reds’ 5-4 victory that tightened the NL Central race.

The third-place Reds have won the first two games in the series, closing their gap with second-place Pittsburgh to two games. The Ohio River rivals have split their 12 games this season.

From the early rain delay, this one stood out.

“Just a weird game,” said Jordy Mercer, who struck out to end it.

Burnett (4-7) and Cincinnati’s Mat Latos (9-3) had a tough time finding their control after a 1-hour, 17-minute delay in the middle of the first inning. Travis Snider’s pinch-hit RBI double cut it to 5-4 in the eighth, but Logan Ondrusek got Jose Tabata to ground out with the bases loaded, ending the rally.

Then, the Pirates came up short one more time.

Chapman gave up an infield single by McCutchen to open the ninth and made a wild pickoff throw. Shortstop Zack Cozart misplayed Pedro Alvarez’s grounder for Cincinnati’s third error, leaving runners on first and third.

The All-Star closer got a pop-up, then fanned Michael McKenry and Mercer for his 23rd save in 26 chances.

“You’re trying to square one up against one of the best closers in the game,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We got ourselves in the best position you could want, first and third with none out.”

Couldn’t do it.

“If we keep doing our part and stay focused, something’s going to give,” Mercer said. “We need a couple of them to fall and we’re going to get going. That’s all we need.”

Joey Votto drove in a pair of runs for the Reds, and Shin-Soo Choo had a double and a single, extending his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games.

Thirteen minutes after the first pitch, the umpires called for the tarp when a gust of wind blew through Great American Ball Park with Burnett warming up. Several members of the grounds crew were blown off their feet while wrestling the tarp into place.

Burnett had a rough time getting re-started, allowing four runs right away.

“We all have our routines,” Burnett said. “That was nowhere close to my routine.

Three of the runs were set up by Mercer’s fielding error at second base. Votto got his 500th career RBI on the error, Brandon Phillips singled home a run, Cozart hit a sacrifice fly and Devin Mesoraco doubled for a 4-0 lead.

Latos struck out to end the nine-batter inning – an hour and a half after he’d thrown his last pitch. Then, just like Burnett, Latos struggled to find his touch. Garrett Jones homered and Cozart’s errant throw at shortstop let in a run in the second.

McCutchen hit a solo homer in the fourth, his third homer in his last four games. Eleven of his 12 homers have been solos. The Pirates have five homers in the first two games of the series, all solo shots.

Burnett didn’t allow another run until the sixth, when he walked Votto with the bases loaded on his 109th and final pitch.

“It’s a fun series when we play these guys,” Burnett said. “They’ve got a tough lineup.”

The Pirates stranded 12 runners. They left the bases loaded in the third and eighth innings.

McCutchen was on his way to a triple with one out in the seventh when he lost his footing and fell halfway between second and third, getting tagged out when he got up.

“I don’t think there was even going to be a throw to third,” Hurdle said. “That’s another one of those things that make you go ‘huh?’ during the game.”

Cincinnati’s Jack Hannahan and Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte were hit by pitches, making it 21 batters plunked during the teams’ season series. It’s the most for any season series in the majors.

Notes: LH Jeff Locke will start the final game of the series today. Locke had to miss his last scheduled start because of a sore back. Hurdle said Locke had no problems after throwing on Friday. ... An NFL Films crew followed Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins around the field for his ceremonial pitch to Reds third baseman Todd Frazier. The Bengals will be featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” next month.

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