Notes and recap:
Division hopes slammed by Reds
Ramon Santiago's walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning all but the shut the door on the Pirates' hopes of winning the division, as the Bucs dropped the penultimate game of the season, 10-6. In order to win the NL Central, the Pirates need to defeat Johnny Cueto tomorrow, while hoping the Diamondbacks win tonight, then beat Adam Wainwright tomorrow. If all of that happens, the Pirates would then travel to St. Louis and have beat the Cardinals with Edinson Volquez the likely starter.
A wild ride
"Wonderfully crazy, like the season," is how Clint Hurdle summarized an afternoon of twists, turns and wild swings of emotion at Great American Ball Park.
Francisco Liriano got off to an ominous start and never fully settled in. The first four Reds hitters of the game got on base on consecutive walk-single combinations. Before the first out was recorded, two runs had scored (one due to an error by Starling Marte). When the inning finally ended the Reds had scored three runs on two hits, one error and two walks.
The Pirates chipped away scoring a run in the second inning, then rallied to briefly take the lead in the fifth. Jordy Mercer led off the inning with a shot deep into the lower deck in left field. After Chris Stewart struck out, Liriano singled to right. Josh Harrison then followed with a double, and two batters later the bases were full with two outs for Neil Walker. The Pirates' second baseman hit a looping liner that seemed to hang in the air forever, as centerfielder Chris Heisey rushed in. Heisey has made so many diving catches against the Bucs over the years that it seemed almost inevitable he would make a spectacular sliding basket catch. But this time Heisey pulled up short, and the ball dropped in, scoring Liriano and Harrison.
Liriano could not shut the door on the Reds, however. A leadoff walk, a wild pitch and a two out single hit to the wrong side of the Pirates shifted infield led to another run, and the game headed into its second half tied 4-4. For the day, Liriano threw 96 pitches in just five innings of work, allowing four runs (three earned) and five walks along the way.
"The command out of the stretch has been hard for him at times, and today it showed up [again]," Hurdle said. "It was a battle, he had to scratch and claw throughout. ... He battles he competes, he's a very prideful man, it just wasn't his top shelf game."
The Pirates jumped back into the lead with a two-run seventh inning. Andrew McCutchen singled home Gregory Polanco (who was pinch running for Travis Snider), and then Walker tripled home McCutchen.
After Walker's triple, the 1,000 or so Pirates fans in attendance took over Great American Ball Park with chants of "Let's Go Bucs!" On Twitter, speculation began about how the Pirates should set up their rotation for a likely Monday matchup. Basically, a division title felt as close to a possibility as it's felt all season. But that feeling only lasted for about 15 minutes.
In the bottom of the seventh, John Holdzkom proved to be mortal. Brandon Phillips hit a one out single up the middle, and Todd Frazier followed by dropping a high fly ball into the second row of the right field stands, tying the game, 6-6.
"It was a ball up and over the plate," Hurdle said. "This is one of those parks that that ball reaches the seats ...This is the big leagues. Those kind things are going to happen when guys continue to get the ball."
The game went scoreless until the bottom of the 10th. John Axford walked Frazier on four pitches to lead off the inning. After Devin Mesoraco flew out to center, Heisey singled and then Axford walked Ryan Ludwick. With the bases loaded, Hurdle brought in Bobby LaFromboise, who immediately fell behind Yorman Rodriguez 3-0 in the count before getting him to pop out to shallow right field. Just when it looked like the Pirates might escape to fight another inning, Ramon Santiago lifted a fly ball to left field that decisively cleared the left field wall for a walk-off grand slam.
"It was good, I mean it puts you back in the game," Hurdle said of LaFromboise battling back in the at bat against Rodriguez. "You think you have a chance and you're trying hang on and find a way to play another inning. [But] it didn't work out ... when you get to late innings, as we all know, walks usually never turn out to be your friend."
Hurdle was not revealing any future plans for the rotation after the game.
"I can't imagine why we wouldn't wait until the Cardinals game is over [to set our rotation]," Hurdle said. "We'll let you know what we're going to do tomorrow, by tomorrow, after we see how tonight plays out."
However, in a bit of surprising news, Hurdle did say that Brandon Cumpton would not be available to start Sunday due to some "arm issues."
Asked if Gerrit Cole is the team's preferred starter for the Wild Card game, Hurdle encouraged everyone to speculate.
"You're not going to talk me into any path," Hurdle said to a reporter. "Speculate. Go for it. Have fun. Tell [your readers] what you would do. Yeah, go for it."