By Hal McCoy
Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell made an unwise and fatal decision Sunday afternoon in the first game of a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates in PNC Park.
And he paid deeply for it, a 4-2 loss to the Pirates, dropping his team four games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers.
Reds starter Brandon Williamson was on cruise control for 5 2/3 innings — one run, two hits. And he led, 2-1, with two outs and nobody on in the sixth.
But when he walked Andrew McCutchen, Bell decided that was enough for the talented rookie left-hander who was 3-0 over his last seven starts.
So Bell put the game into his bullpen’s ice-cold hands, 0-4 since the All-Star break with the second highest earned run average in MLB behind the New York Mets.
And the decision exploded in his hands like somebody holding a lit M-80 too long.
‘After a sacrifice bunt moved McCutchen to second, relief pitcher Alex Young walked rookie pinch-hitter Endy Rodriguez on a full count.
Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton sent up a raw rookie to pinch-hit, Jared Triolo. He worked a full count and Young hung a slider. Triolo belted it on a line into the left field seats, a three-run home run to give the Pirates the 4-2 lead they protected to the end. It was Triolo’s first major-league homer.
The statistics are bizarre. The Pirates had only three hits, but had the big blast. Reds pitchers walked five and three scored.
The Reds were 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight.
They put their leadoff hitter on base in five straight innings, from the second through the fifth, but scored only two runs.
Spencer Steer led the second with a double and stole third with one out. Tyler Stephenson, 1-for-22 with nine strikeouts, hit into an inning-ending double play.
Will Benson opened the third with a walk, but Stuart Fairchild hit into a double play.
Matt McLain started the fourth with an infield single and came around to score on Christian Encarnacion-Strand’s single.
Benson reached first to open the fifth on an error charged to shortstop Alika Williams when he misplayed Benson’s pop-up. Benson stole second and scored on McLain’s double to give the Reds a 2-0 lead.
Steer singled to begin the sixth, but Pittsburgh starter Mitch Keller struck out Joey Votto, Encarnacion-Strand and Stephenson.
Keller began the season 9-3, but was 0-5 in his last seven starts and the Pirates lost all seven.
Williamson gave up a single to Ke’Bryan Hayes to start Pittsburgh’s first. He then retired 12 in a row through five innings.
But he walked Henry Davis to start the fifth and he moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Williams’ two-out single. Williams was 0 for 16 at the time.
And it stayed 2-1 until Williamson was removed in the sixth with two outs and a runner on first.
The Reds made a bid in the eighth when Steer doubled aftrer Elly Dela Cruz struck out for the fourth time. But Votto flied to left and Encarnacion-Strand struck out.
They made another bid in the ninth, but Pittsburgh closer David Bednar squashed it.
Benson tripled with one out when right fielder Connor Joe misplayed his long drive near the wall.
But he didn’t budge. Pinch-hitter Henry Ramos struck out and it ended on a ground ball by TJ Friedl, who went 0 for 5 as the leadoff batter.