By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — They started this thing at the same time as most normal folks are slipping their legs into pajamas. It was 10:05 on a rainy Friday night when the first pitch was thrown between falling rain drops.
It was absurdity to the nth degree, this duck demonstration between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds in Great American Ball Park.
And when it ended at 1:32 a.m., Reds officials probably wished they had postponed the whole mess because the home team was clobbered 12-1 in deathly silence, as if it was TV studio baseball.
They set off the Friday night fireworks before the game, during the two hour-55 minutes delay, at 8:15 while it was still raining. After the rocket’s last glare from the fireworks most of the patrons went home, leaving about 350 in the stands to witness Pittsburgh’s fireworks — three homers, a double and a triple among their 16 hits.
After all, this was an important game, one that had to be played between the last place Reds and the next-to-last place Pirates, 4 1/2 games ahead of the Reds in the National League Central standings when the long, long night began. Now, though, the Reds are 5 1/2 behind the Pirates, who have won nine of their last 10 games and seven in a row.
For three innings, the two teams took turns putting them on and leaving them on. The Pirates had two on with nobody out in the second and didn’t score and a runner on second with one out in the third and didn’t score.
It was nearly the same for the Reds. They had two on with no outs in the second and didn’t score and two on with one out in the third and didn’t score.
The Pirates put two on with no outs in the fourth against Reds starter Tyler Mahle and this time they made something of it, a pair of runs. Colin Moran singled and Josh Bell walked on a full count. Sean Rodriguez, fresh off the disabled list, singled to left for a run and a second run scored on pitcher Jameson Taillon’s safety squeeze bunt.
Jesse Winker led the Reds fourth with his second straight hit, but it was more of the same for the Reds when Adam Duvall struck out, Phillip Ervin struck out and Tyler Mahle struck out to leave the Pirates in charge, 2-0.
The first two Pirates in the sixth reached on Colin Moran’s third straight single and Josh Bell’s walk. That brought pitching coach Danny Darwin to the mound and he barely sat down on his return to the dugout when Mahle’s first pitch to Sean Rodriguez landed in the left field seats, a three-run home run that made it 5-0.
Mahle retired the next two, but Corey Dickerson reached the right field seats with a home run to make it 6-0 and spell the end of Mahle’s night. In only 5 2/3 innings he threw 111 pitches and gave up six runs, eight hits (two home runs) three walks and struck out three. And his record slipped to 7-and-8 with a 4.32 earned run average.
After seven straight solid starts, Mahle had tossed in two clunkers in a row, giving up 11 earned runs in his last two starts.
“A slider down the middle to Rodriguez (three-run homer) and another slider down the middle on a full count to Polanco, so I had to throw a strike,” said Mahle, explaining the two pitches that shortened his night.
“Same thing as my last start — some luck involved and bad pitching,” he said. “Nothing else to really say.”
Manager Jim Riggleman said a bit more than that.
“We’ve talked about it all year and thought we’d got past it, getting past that sixth inning,” said Riggleman. “That sixth inning bit our starter again (four runs). He had already given up two runs, but not many hard-hit balls and was cruising along. In the sixth he lost control a little bit, a couple of walks, and the big home run. It is a hurdle we have to get over.”
Mahle’s opponent, Jameson Taillon, gave up four total hits in the second and third innings, but no runs, then retired eight of the next nine, four on strikeouts. The streak ended in the sixth when he walked leadoff hitter Scooter Gennett. After Eugenio Suarez struck out, Jesse Winker struck for his third straight hit, a run-scoring double to make it 6-1. And that was the end of Taillon’s night.
The Pirates retrieved that run in the seventh when Gregory Polanco tripled off the top of center fielder Billy Hamilton’s glove and scored on a single by Elias Diaz.
The exclamation point was applied in the eighth inning when Jackson Stephens gave up three straight singles and a grand slam home run to Starling Marte.
The Reds finished with three less hits than the Pirates had runs with nine, seven singles and two doubles.
And Alex Blandino was helped off the field in the top of the ninth. After getting his ninth pinch-hit, he stayed in the game at second base and injured his right knee turning a double play when Pittsburgh’s Max Moroff slid into him. He was unable to put weight on his right leg when he was aided to the dugout.
The muddy conditions probably contributed to Blandino’s injury. Moroff appeared to stick in the mud on his slide and came up short. He appeared to try to avoid Blandino but hit Blandino’s knee when he popped up after the slide.
“The young man tried to slide early and not hit Blandino,” said Riggleman. “It was muddy and he kind of stuck and rolled. I’m sure he feels terrible about it and we feel terrible about it. Hopefully it is not extremely serious. The kid was not trying to hit him and I don’t believe he had any intent to hurt anybody.”
Blandino will undergo an MRI this morning to determine the extent and seriousness of the injury.