Last summer, a 10-game winning streak propelled the Pittsburgh Pirates to the top of the National League and made them a playoff shoo-in.
This year, when it comes to stringing together good results, the Bucs can’t even get halfway to double digits – and it might cost them a postseason berth.
For the fifth time this year, the Pirates had a victorious run stop at four games, as they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.
Light-hitting Chris Heisey homered twice for the visitors, including the game-winning solo shot in the top of the ninth against Pirates reliever Jared Hughes. Pittsburgh (71-65) led 2-0 after two innings, but Reds ace Johnny Cueto held them off the scoreboard for the next six frames.
The Bucs had an opportunity to snag the lead in the bottom of the eighth when Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen singled with one out, but Cueto bore down to retire Neil Walker and Ike Davis. After Heisey’s one-out blast in the ninth, Cincy flamethrower Aroldis Chapman retired Pittsburgh in order to end the game.
Although the Pirates won their third straight series and improved to 7-3 in their past 10, they remain multiple games out of a playoff spot with four weeks left in the regular season. Pittsburgh trails NL Central co-leaders Milwaukee and St. Louis by two, with a three-game series against the Cardinals starting Monday afternoon.
Sunday had the look of a Pirates sweep early on. Harrison and Jordy Mercer slammed solo bombs to left field to put Pittsburgh up by a deuce, and starting pitcher Francisco Liriano didn’t allow a hit until the fourth.
However, in the fifth, Liriano walked Ryan Ludwick ahead of Heisey’s game-tying liner into the bleachers. Heisey has seven homers this year, four of those coming against the Bucs.
Liriano recovered to make it through seven innings, but with top relievers Tony Watson and Mark Melancon already taxed heavily this week, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle turned to Hughes for high-leverage work. The tall right-hander threw a perfect frame in the eighth before the decisive ninth.
The Pirates’ offensive struggle was a large part of the story, too. Harrison, McCutchen and Mercer collected two hits apiece against Cy Young candidate Cueto, but the Bucs couldn’t put together any rallies of consequence.
Another key showdown with St. Louis begins at 2:15 p.m. Eastern time Monday. Gerrit Cole goes up against Lance Lynn in a rematch of last Tuesday’s game at PNC Park, during which Cole took a no-hitter into the sixth.