It was difficult to discern on another incredibly miserable hot day in Great American Ball Park Monday afternoon which team is in last place and which team is headed for the playoffs.
For those who have been hibernating from the heat the last few weeks, the Cincinnati Reds are in last place in the National League Central and the Pittsburgh Pirates are in second place, their grasp secure on a wild card spot.
But it was the Pirates who resembled a team (the Reds) that is 23 games under .500 and 30 ½ games out of first place.
The Pirates made three errors in the first two innings that led to three runs (two unearned) and Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani took it from there for a 3-1 Cincinnati victory. DeSclafani held the Pirates to one run and seven hits over 7 1/3 innings, didn’t walk anybody and struck out six.
And this is the way it has been for the Reds against the Pirates for the past two seasons. They’ve won 12 of the last 16 games against the Pirates. For the game, the Pirates committed four errors and had a runner picked off base in the ninth inning.
The game tilted Cincinnati’s way in the bottom of the second when Pittsburgh shortstop Sean Rodriguez booted a ground ball hit by Brandon Phillips, the second error of the game by Rodriguez.
That brought up Jay Bruce for an at bat that seemed to last forever. He battled Pittsburgh pitcher Jeff Locke through 13 pitches. The 13th pitch was slammed into right field for a single and Bruce’s 1,000th career hit.
Eugenio Suarez singled home a run and two more scored on Tucker Barnhart’s sacrifice fly that ended with a second run scoring on right fielder Gregory Polanco’s wild throw home for another error.
While Bruce takes a ton of criticism from fandom, he reached 1,000 hits before he turned 29, something former Reds Ken Griffey Sr., Tony Perez and Sean Casey were unable to do.
“I have been fortunate to be around this long to get 1,000 hits and for every hit to be with the Reds is awesome,” said Bruce. “There are not a lot of people with 1,000 hits and there are some with a lot more hits. I don’t take it for granted because I know how hard the game is.”
Of his 1,000 hits before age 29, Bruce added, “It’s humbling to be mentioned with those guys — a Hall of Famer and guys who made multi all-star games and played 20 years in the majors. For me to be even mentioned in that group is something I don’t take lightly and I can even wrap my head around it right now.”
Manager Bryan Price appreciates Bruce’s contributions over the years and said, “It’s neat because he is an iconic player and everybody loves him and he is a homegrown kid. He plays the game hard, plays it the hard way and he loves being a Red.”
It took 13 pitches to get it against Jeff Locke, but Bruce said, “It was a fun at bat, now that it is over and I got a hit. It was a good time to get it.”
The Pirates resembled the Reds offensively, too, especially in the eighth inning when they finally rid themselves on DeSclafani.
He gave up a double to Jaff Decker and a one-out run-scoring single to Neil Walker to make it 3-1 and DeSclafani was finished.
Jumbo Diaz came on to throw seven straight pitches out of the strike zone, walking Andrew McCutchen and going 3-and-0 to Jung Ho Kang. Diaz leveled the count at 3-and-2 and ended the uprising by coaxing an inning-ending double play out of Kang.
The Pirates put a runner on first with one out in the ninth when Reds closer Aroldis Chapman hit Rodriguez with a pitch. Rodriguez, who made two errors, was picked off firstr base. Chapman finished it off by striking out pinch-hitter Starling Marte.
Chapman has been easy to run on during his career, but he caught Rodriguez naked and afraid on the pickoff and Price said, “I’d love to say that was by design. He threw over on his own, all Chappie. .”
DeSclafani did a lot of things on his own, too, keeping the Pirates quiet most of the afternoon by incorporating his ever-evolving curve ball.
“We did our research on DeSclafani (before trading Mat Latos last winter to get him) and we liked his talent,” said Price. “Can he start and continue to grow as a starting pitcher. He has answered that question for us. Absolutely he can. He has incorporated the curve ball and improves it. He holds runners, he throws strikes, he attacks the hitters.”
DeSclafani said attacking the Pirates with the curve made the day easier.
“My last two games the difference-maker was my curveball,” he said. “It has been the best it has been all year, the equalizer for me. I got ‘em off my fastball with it.”
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