The Pirates lost 5-2 on Opening Day, wilting in the face of a dominant performance by Johnny Cueto and an eighth-inning, three-run homer by Todd Frazier. The loss was, incidentally, the 10,000th in Pirates franchise history.
Cueto was even better than usual. He baffled the Pirates while mixing up his delivery, sometimes incorporating his trademark torso turn and sometimes forgoing it. Opening Day is exciting, but it typically means your team has to contend with other team's ace, and when that ace is Johnny Cueto at the top of the game, it's tough to hope for your team to do more than stay in the game and get to their opponents' bullpen. Which the Pirates did, although they dug a small hole for themselves first.
In the third, the Reds took a 1-0 lead thanks to some self-inflicted wounds by Francisco Liriano. Cueto walked, then got replaced by Billy Hamilton on a force out. Joey Votto then singled, and Hamilton came home as Liriano balked. (I was watching the Cincinnati broadcast, which didn't linger on the balk, but I gather some Pirates fans were confused by the call.)
The next inning, Liriano whiffed Marlon Byrd with a slider, got Jay Bruce into a 1-2 count and seemed set to cruise through another couple frames, but then Bruce caught hold of a fastball and hit it to right center for a solo homer.
After a rain delay in the top of the sixth, Cueto returned and pitched two more terrific innings. Overall, he struck out 10 batters and walked one, allowing just four hits. Liriano, who also departed after seven, was very good, posting seven strikeouts against three walks and frequently confusing Reds batters with his slider as usual. But he didn't dominate, and Cueto was good enough that the mistakes Liriano made against him would be costly.
Fortunately, the Reds gave the Pirates a gift in the eighth, replacing Cueto with Kevin Gregg. As I noted earlier today, the Reds have a ton of flotsam on the back of their roster, and here they paid for it, as four straight Pirates batters got either hits or hard-hit outs against Gregg, a marginal veteran who shouldn't be pitching high-leverage innings. (The Reds did, it should be noted, have better options available. Gregg probably shouldn't be on their roster at all, but if they turned to him in the eighth because of his late-inning experience, that's another mistake.) One of those hits was a single, and the last was a homer by Andrew McCutchen that just cleared the wall in center and tied the game at two.
The Pirates wouldn't stay in the game for long, though. In the bottom of the inning, Billy Hamilton and Votto singled, and Hamilton stole third without a throw. And then Todd Frazier caught hold of a Tony Watson fastball and smashed a ridiculous home run to left. And then the Reds sent Aroldis Chapman out for the ninth, and, you know, Aroldis Chapman.
Oh well. Today it was Johnny Cueto and a breakdown by Tony Watson. 2013 Wild Card game aside, the Pirates can never seem to beat Cueto, but they don't have to face him every day, and Watson doesn't let the Pirates down very often. On Wednesday, the Bucs will face Mike Leake, and on Thursday, it will be Anthony DeSclafani. And Watson will, in all likelihood, be his normal self. It will get easier.