J.A. Happ struck out 10 batters without walking any over six innings, and the Pirates took a decisive lead on Jung-Ho Kang's grand slam in the sixth inning as they finished their series in Cincinnati with a 5-4 win.
The Bucs scored a run in the first as Gregory Polanco doubled, moved up on a bunt, and came home on Andrew McCutchen's sacrifice fly. From there, Happ struck out the side int he first, although it was clear from the beginning that he would be the beneficiary of a strike zone that was out of whack. His third strike against Ivan De Jesus in that first inning was seven inches out of the zone ("0% call same," as PiratesUmp put it).
Happ surrendered a solo homer to Todd Frazier in the second to tie the score -- it just isn't a Pirates game against the Reds unless Frazier gets his homer. But Happ continued getting whiffs after that, still benefiting from the occasionally wacky strike zone. His called third strike on Billy Hamilton in the third was several inches too low. Then Votto didn't get the benefit of the doubt on a close pitch in the fourth.
In the sixth, Polanco led off with a single and stole second. McCutchen then walked, and Aramis Ramirez loaded the bases with a line-drive single. Then Keyvius Sampson let a fastball catch too much of the plate against Kang, who loves fastballs, I'm sure all the more when they're mistakes. He blasted it into the mostly empty seats in left field for a grand slam, giving the Bucs a 5-1 lead.
Votto's double in the seventh led to Happ's departure and a Cincinnati run. In the eighth, the first three Reds batters loaded the bases against Tony Watson, and De Jesus made it 5-3 with a sacrifice fly.
That brought Votto to the plate, and he had another ball called a strike. Then he asked for time and didn't get it. Votto was so furious with home plate umpire Bill Welke that another ump had to hold him back, and he and Reds manager Bryan Price were ejected.
Former Pirates catching prospect Ramon Cabrera came to the plate to finish the at-bat and lifted a soft fly ball to right, loading the bases with his first career hit. Watson gave up another run on a groundout, but managed to escape with the Bucs retaining a one-run lead. Mark Melancon pitched the ninth for the save.
We've talked about Votto and the umpiring a lot so far; it takes more words to explain why his anger was justified than it does to point out that Happ and Kang are awesome. But let it be known: Happ and Kang are awesome. That's the take-home tonight. Happ got his fair share of calls tonight, sure, but the complete confusion with which his fastball has been greeted in these last several starts is a thing of beauty. And Kang's homer was his 15th of the year and his second in two games.
The Cardinals won, so the Pirates didn't gain any ground in the NL Central. On the bright side, the Cardinals beat the Cubs, meaning the Bucs have strengthened their hold on home-field advantage in the Wild Card game, assuming they do end up there.