By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds, presented an opportunity to climb out of last place Wednesday afternoon, popped their heads out of the hole and crawled back in.
With a victory over Pittsburgh in Great American Ball Park, the Reds would have passed the Pirates and climbed into fourth place in the National League Central.
The Pirates and left hander Steven Brault thought differently and pinned a 7-2 loss on the Reds.
That, though, was the preliminary. The main event was after the game when Reds manager David Bell declared it is now open season on the Pirates, giving his team carte blanche to do whatever necessary to protect itself.
It was the result of the Pirates hitting Eugenio Suarez with a pitch on the hand in the eighth inning. Bell believed it was intentional and it probably was. The two teams have perpetual animosity with each other and have used the opposing team for target practice for several seasons.
Bell reacted vehemently to the Suarez plunking and argued with umpires until he finally was ejected, his fourth dismissal by umpires this year.
He still was red-faced after the game and let it all out.
“We know that team will do it intentionally,” said Bell. “I was doing what I could to protect our players. Clearly we are not going to get protected, so we have to do whatever we can. We have to take matters into our own hands. It has been made clear our players are not going to be protected. And we know that team will intentionally throw at people.”
After Suarez was hit on the left hand, he detoured toward the mound and said something to pitcher Clay Holmes. Early last season Pittsburgh pitcher Jonathan Taillon broke Suarez’s thumb with a pitch.
“They were up by six (runs) and I didn’t know if they hit me on purpose,” said Suarez. “That’s why I walked up to him. To ask him if he hit me on purpose. He said, ‘No, definitely no.’ I want to make sure because I don’t like that pitch up-and-in.”
Suarez said Pittsburgh catcher Elias Diaz, a fellow Venezuelan, “Told me in Spanish that, ‘We don’t want to hit you,’ and I just wanted to make sure because that hurt.”
That didn’t satisfy Bell, who in the past has indicated he is not in favor of retaliation.
“I’m going to make sure our players know that they have to do whatever means necessary to protect themselves,” he said. “Whatever that takes. A baseball has a chance to do some serious damage.
“When somebody is messing with your livelihood, your career, who knows, you have to protect yourself. Clearly we are not going to be protected by the umpires or the league,” he added, his voice rising with each sentence.
“It has been made clear so our players need to do whatever they need to do. Period. And I’ll back them no matter what that is. Whatever means necessary.
“For some reason we think it is OK to throw at people?” he asked. “Maybe that was OK many years ago and we’re still living by some rules I don’t know about, that it is OK to intentionally throw at our players. The umpires think it is OK and the league, I think has made it clear that it is somewhat OK. Somebody is going to get hurt.
“We need to take any measures possible and our players need to do whatever they need to do to stick up for themselves,” said Bell.
The game? Forgettable.
Brault lugged a 7.11 earned run average to the mound and engaged in a pitcher’s duel with Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani — for five innings.
It was 0-0 until the sixth when DeSclafani gave up singles to Bryan Reynolds and Josh Bell. He had two outs when Colin Moran stepped into the box. On the second pitch, the score exploded from 0-0 to 3-0 because Moran unloaded a three-run opposite field home run to left field.
The home run was the 14th off DeSclafani this season in only 54 1/3 innings. And he has averaged slightly less than five innings over his 11 starts.
Brault held the Reds scoreless on three hits through 5 1/3 innings. When he issued a walk and a deep fly ball to open the sixth, his afternoon was over.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle brought in Richard Rodriquez to face Yasiel Puig and Puig struck out. Derek Dietrich blooped a single to left field, putting runners on third and first, but Curt Casali flied to right, ending the threat.
The Pirates put this one to rest in the seventh with four runs against relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen, including another three-run opposite-field home run, this one by Josh Bell. His rip to left field was his 18th home run and he has 51 runs batted in.
DeSclafani, 2-and-3 with a 4.97 earned run average, has not won in his last four starts, although the Reds won two of them.
With the success of Lucas Sims against the Pirates Tuesday, the Reds could consider replacing DeSclafani with Sims when DeSclafani’s turn surfaces.
The Reds mustered only seven hits, none for extra bases until Nick Senzel hit a two-out home run in the ninth inning, his fourth.