By Jason Strine
A disappointing end to a promising season.
The 2013 Cincinnati Reds came in to the season with expectations of going deep into the playoffs and possibly competing for a World Series championship, but all of those hopes and aspirations came to an end on Tuesday night when the Reds fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates. By all accounts, the Reds had a successful season with 90 wins and a playoff berth as the second wildcard team, but despite these achievements the team did not seem too pleased with the outcome of the season.
“Either you win or you go home, and I’m going home, and the last place I want to be is on my couch. I don’t want to do that. But it happened today and it sucks, man. I mean, it’s terrible.” These words by Brandon Phillips following the loss to the Pirates sum up pretty quickly what the loss felt like for the Reds.
The final score of the loss on Tuesday was 6-2, but it felt more like 106-2 as the Reds bats fell silent as Francisco Liriano pitched a gem of a game. The raucous crowd at PNC Ballpark made sure that the nation knew that the Buccos were back in the playoffs.
The first inning started out as meaningless as it possibly could as both teams were retired without scoring any runs. Phillips led off the second inning for the Reds with a ground out to second base and two more teammates followed with outs and no runs for a second consecutive inning.
The second inning is when it all began to unravel for the Reds as Marlon Byrd led off the inning with a monster home run to left field and one out later Russell Martin followed suit to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead. Typically, a 2-0 lead is not insurmountable but on this night with the combination of Liriano on top of his game and the playoff-desperate Pirates fans, it certainly seemed as though it would be a lot to overcome. One lone bright spot of the second inning came when Todd Frazier ended the bleeding with a diving catch into the stands down the third base line on a foul ball from Neil Walker.
The Pirates scored again in the bottom of the 3rd, but not without Brandon Phillips making another “Brandon Phillips type play.” Andrew McCutchen, one of the fastest runners in Major League Baseball, hit a slow dribbler up the middle in which Phillips charged hard, bare handed and threw a seed to first base on the run but McCutchen was able to beat it out. This play was a microcosm of the evening: the Reds trying as hard as possible but the Pirates remaining a step ahead.
There appeared to be some life in the Reds in the top of the 4th inning as Shin Shoo Choo led off the inning getting plunked by a pitch and Ryan Ludwick followed with a single into left field. With runners on 1st and 2nd, nobody out and the 3, 4, and 5 hitters coming up, it seemed like the Reds would about to make some noise. They didn’t make much as Joey Votto and Phillips both made outs before Jay Bruce singled in the one run to make 3-1. Todd Frazier then missed a go ahead three run home run by less than 5 feet before striking out. You could begin to see the frustration in Phillips’ face as he jogged back to the dugout after this at bat.
The Pirates continued to add on to their lead and stretched it out to 6-1 until the top of the 8th when the Reds flashed their last glimmer of hope to all of Reds country. Choo homered to right field and was followed by a double by Ludwick to get the visitor dugout excited and thinking positively. Unfortunately, those back-to-back hits where followed by back-to-back outs by Votto and Phillips to end the hopes for a rally in the 8th inning. Jason Grilli came on in the 9th to save the game for the Pirates and send them to their first playoff game victory since 1992.
After the game, in a quiet and solemn Reds locker room, Brandon Phillips took the heat upon himself for the Reds loss by stating, “What message am I sending? It’s not a message that I’m sending. I mean, I choked. I didn’t do nothing today. I mean, what’d I do today? Tell me, what did I do? Did I get any hits, did I get any RBIs? I choked. I didn’t do nothing to make the team win. And, like I said, it’s on me. It’s not the team’s fault, it’s my fault. I had opportunities to really come through for the team and I didn’t do that.”
While clearly Phillips was not the only one shut down by Liriano on Tuesday, perhaps Phillips is developing into the vocal leader that this Reds’ ball club can look towards in order to advance further into the playoffs come next October.