PITTSBURGH – Either a six-run deficit to the Pittsburgh Pirates will serve as a low point in the Cincinnati Reds’ playoff race or it was a sign of things to come.
This is a Reds team that played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” after home wins earlier in the season, but they can change their tune to “Free Fallin’” after a 6-5 loss to the 91-loss Pirates on Tuesday at PNC Park.
It was just the second time the Reds lost to the Pirates in their 11 games this year. The Reds had outscored them, 82-26, in their previous 10 meetings. Now, they're in danger of dropping their seventh consecutive series and they've lost 11 of their last 15 games.
Manager David Bell went around the visiting clubhouse after Tuesday's loss to tell players, "It's going to turn. I can feel it." There may be guys pressing throughout the Reds' dugout, but they remain upbeat as a group.
"It's one of those things where we can't panic," Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "We're still in a situation where we can still win this series and we can still win ballgames moving forward and get to where we want to be. It's just not going our way right now."
The Reds entered Tuesday tied in the loss column with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres, a three-way tie with less than three weeks remaining in the season.
Wade Miley, who has stepped up so often during losing streaks, didn’t have many things break his way. He allowed 10 hits and six runs (five earned) in 4 1/3 innings, giving up three runs in the first inning. It was the third time in his last five starts he’s failed to complete at least five innings.
"Wade pitching to contact is what he does well," Barnhart said. "He pitched to contact tonight like he always does, they just found some holes. It's part of the way he pitches. Sometimes, it's going to happen."
Things snowballed quickly for Miley in the fifth inning. After giving up a leadoff single and issuing a walk to All-Star starter Bryan Reynolds, Yoshi Tsutsugo hit a ground ball up the middle. It rolled away from the defensive shift, turning into a RBI single as Miley watched from the mound.
As Reynolds ran to third base on Tsutsugo’s single, Aristides Aquino’s throw from left field hit Reynolds on the hand as he began to slide into the base. The ball deflected toward the Pirates’ dugout, allowing Reynolds to score.
Jacob Stallings added an RBI double down the third-base line on Miley’s next pitch, giving the Pirates a 6-0 lead.
"I feel great about where (Miley) is physically," Bell said. "That is not what I saw tonight. I feel like he has a lot of innings, a lot of big games left in him the rest of the way."
The Reds couldn’t accomplish much offensively against left-handed starter Dillon Peters, who was making his fifth start of the season. Peters yielded five hits and zero runs across five innings, walking one and striking out five.
It wasn’t until the Pirates turned to their bullpen in the sixth inning, and used right-handed reliever Nick Mears, when the Reds snapped a 20-inning scoreless streak. They loaded the bases with a walk and two singles against reliever Nick Mears before Tucker Barnhart muscled a pitch on his hands into right field for a two-run bloop single.
"We want to be in a position where we control our own destiny, pretty much to get where we want to go," Barnhart said. "I think it's human nature when things aren't going the right way to, maybe, try to get a little more instead of maybe relaxing and playing. I can only speak for myself, but it's hard not to get wrapped up in it a little bit."
Pinch-hitter Mike Moustakas loaded the bases again with a single, setting the table for the top of the lineup. Jonathan India hit a ground ball to third base, but he hustled down the line to break up the potential inning-ending double play as a run scored.
India was rewarded for his hustle again when Kyle Farmer hit an RBI single into right field on the next pitch, a line drive that right fielder Ben Gamel couldn’t corral on a diving attempt.
It was a four-run, five-hit sixth inning to inject some life into the Reds’ dugout.
"We know what we have to do to go out there and find ways to win," Moustakas said. "Maybe tomorrow, somebody has to drop down a sacrifice bunt, get a guy over. Every game right now, we have to go out and start winning baseball games at all costs."
After the Reds cut the score to 6-4, the Pirates went back to the playbook that worked. Lefty reliever Chasen Shreve pitched two scoreless innings.
Nick Castellanos hit a solo homer off right-hander Chris Stratton with two outs in the ninth inning, but Stratton struck out Joey Votto to earn the save.
After losing two of three games in St. Louis, the Reds knew they were still in the driver's seat in the wild-card race. They have a chance of derailing quickly if they can't beat the Pirates.
"As long as we can trust one another, enjoy what we're going through right now and relish the fact that we're in the middle of a playoff push to get in the dance," Barnhart said, "I think that will get us back to where we want to be and where we were: playing well and winning a lot of games."