By Hal McCoy
There was the usual excitement for Opening Day in Cincinnati, the normal pomp and circumstance.
Great American Ball Park was filled with fans, a stadium record 44,063, and they were loud and supportive to the final out.
Unfortunately for the Cincinnati Reds, the final out was a strikeout by Jake Fraley with the potential tying run standing near second base.
The Pittsburgh Pirates took away the pomp and the Reds lost under some familiar circumstances.
What is it about the Pirates that the Reds don’t understand? They tied for last place last season in the National League Central with 62-100 records.
But the Pirates have won the last 10 games against the Reds that were decided by three or fewer runs.
Reds starter Hunter Greene survived only 3 1/3 innings and was charged with three runs, but when he left the game it was tied, 1-1.
When he left with out in third after 83 pitches (one clocked at 105.4 miles an hour) and eight striketouts, he had given up a double to number eight hitter Ji Hwan Bae and walked light-hitting catcher Austin Hedges.
Reds manager David Bell brought in Fernando Cruz and it was a disaster drill.
He scuffed up about a dozen baseballs spiking his cutter in the dirt in front of home plate.
—He walked O’Neil Cruz on a full count to fill the bases.
—He walked Bryan Reynolds on a full count to force in a run that gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
—He walked Andrew McCutchen on a full count to force in another run that gave the Pirates a 3-1 lead.
—He didn’t walk Carlos Santana on a full count. He didn’t get that far. He threw another cutter into the dirt, a wild pitch that let in another run that gave the Pirates a 4-1 lead.
The Reds did scramble back to tie it, 4-4.
Spencer Speer launched the Reds first home run of the season in the fourth, cutting Pittsburgh’s margin to 4-2.
Then they scored two in the fifth to tie it on Jason Vosler’s two-run triple and it was 4-4.
It stayed locked up until the eighth when the Pirates scored the winning run without a hit off relief pitcher Derek Law, using old school baseball.
Law walked Bae. He stole second. Analytics say a sacrifice bunt is not in the best interests. But Hedges, who led the American League in sacrifice bunts last season when he played for Cleveland, pushed a perfect sacrifice bunt up the third base line, movjng Bae to third. That enabled him to trot home and break the tie on a sacrifice fly by Cruz.
The new pitch clock didn’t lop off any time for this game. It lasted 3 hours and 2 minutes.
But it probably affected Greene. With a 0-and-2 count on Cruz in the third inning, the Reds 23-year-old Greene became the first Reds pitcher to get called for a violation. . .taking more than 15 seconds to throw a pitch..
He then threw a couple of quick pitches out of the strike zone and then O’Neil launched a Cruz Missile to right-center that nearly knocked down the twin smoke stacks.
Of the pitch-clock violation, Greene said during a post-game media scrum on Bally Sports TV, “(Catcher Tyler Stephenson) and I were going back and forth on signs and didn’t get to it quick enough. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again. We’re making adjustments on those new changes.”
Greene denied that the violation distracted him enough that he threw the pitch down the center line of Main Street to Cruz.
“It probably looked that way,” he said. “For me, personally, I felt like I was locked in that whole at bat. Just a couple of pitches got away from me. Overall, I was very present during that at bat.”
Bell believes his decisions to take out Greene and insert Cruz were the correct ones.
“Hunter started off strong,” he said. “In the third inning he threw 32 pitches and really had to work hard that inning. He came out in the fourth just not quite as sharp.
“If he had gotten Hedges we would have let him try to get Cruz, but once he lost (walked) Hedges, they had two good hitters coming up and we had Cruz ready. Eighty-three pitches in 3 1/3 inninngs is quite a few.”
“A tough day for Fernando (Cruz),” he said. “He has been pitching well. He is going to be fine. . .just a tough day. They weren’t biting on his split. That’s his pitch. He is going to be fine. They were just laying off a really good pitch.”
The Pirates laid off quite a few bad pitches, too, as six Reds pitchers walked nine.
In addition to Steer’s home run, leadoff hitter Jonathan India had a single, double and walk and scored two runs. Fraley was the only other Reds hitter with two hits.
The Reds struck out 15 times. Will Benson’s debut was four at bats, four strikeouts. TJ Friedl struck out his last three at bats. Wil Myers struck out his first two at bats, then had a walk and a single.
Shortstop Jose Barrero, still trying to prove he is MLB-ready, was 0 for 4 with a pair of strikeouts.