On the verge of avoiding their 20th straight losing season for another day, the Pittsburgh Pirates did something they haven’t done all year.
For the first time in 2012, the Pirates lost a game they led going to the ninth inning, as reliever Joel Hanrahan allowed two runs in the final frame in a 4-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday at PNC Park. With their 82nd loss, the Bucs assured they would extend their own major North American pro sports record for consecutive below-.500 seasons.
Hanrahan blew his fourth of 40 save opportunities when former Pirate Xavier Paul homered to tie the game and Zack Cozart drove in the go-ahead run with two outs, giving the first-place Reds (96-63) a series win. Cincinnati is now tied with Washington for the National League’s best record with three games to play.
Entering the game, the Pirates were 69-0 when carrying a lead after the eighth inning, largely on the strength of Hanrahan’s stellar work.
Still, the Pirates (77-82) had a golden opportunity to at least tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. Reds closer Aroldis Chapman was extremely wild to start the frame, walking pinch-hitter Jose Tabata on four pitches. Chapman, who was recently rested for several days to rest his arm for the playoffs, then threw a pickoff throw down the first-base line.
Tabata easily took second on the error, but he was thrown out by rightfielder Wilson Valdez heading to third after third-base coach Nick Leyva waved him in. That critical mistake loomed moments later when Clint Barmes walked and Rod Barajas singled to put two runners on with one out.
However, Chapman regained enough control to strike out Mike McKenry and Starling Marte, stranding the potential tying and winning runs on base. Especially on Fan Appreciation Day, it seemed a cruel way to torture a fan base that has seen its club go 14-35 to plummet to a season-worst five games under .500.
The Reds scored twice in the top of the fourth against Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez, with Joey Votto and Todd Frazier driving in runs. Despite the hiccup, Rodriguez continued his recent run of solid pitching with six innings and seven strikeouts.
Pittsburgh evened it up in the bottom of the fourth when Garrett Jones lined his career-best 26th home run into the rightfield grandstand against Johnny Cueto, who went seven frames while allowing just one earned run. Prior to the Jones bomb, Alex Presley reached on Votto’s error.
Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen singled in Presley with the go-ahead run in the fifth, after the latter lead off with a double. McCutchen went 1-for-3 to improve his batting average to .329, still behind San Francisco’s Buster Posey (.337) for the NL lead in that category.
The 3-2 lead held through to the ninth, after Tony Watson and Jason Grilli turned in scoreless innings of relief. But one pitch after Paul hit a long foul ball off Hanrahan, the Reds pinch-hitter launched a fastball deep into the stands down the rightfield line.
Ryan Ludwick delivered a pinch-hit double with two outs, and he was driven around by Cozart’s single to left, breaking the hearts of 32,814 in attendance at the final Sunday home game of the year.
Pittsburgh will finish the regular season with a three-game home series against Atlanta. First pitch Monday is at 7:05 p.m., with Pirates rookie Jeff Locke facing former Pittsburgh lefty Paul Maholm.