By Hal McCoy
With the wild card chase tighter than a lid on a new jar of dill pickles, there is no doubt the Cincinnati Reds were watching the clubhouse television sets as they prepared for Friday night’s game.
They saw the Chicago Cubs beat the Colorado Rockies Friday afternoon in Wrigley Field, knowing that their Friday night game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Great American Ball Park was ultra-important.
Win the game or put themselves in a pickle, falling farther behind the Cubs in their quest for the third wild card spot.
And the worse case scenario unfolded, an ultra-disheartening 7-5 loss to the Pirates that dropped the Reds 1 1/2 games behind the Cubs.
The lead changed hands six times in a wild and poorly-played game by both sides, but the Pirates ended up with the upper hand.
After the Pirates hit four solo home runs to take a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning, TJ Friedl, who was on base five straight times, unloaded a two-run home in the home sixth to give the Reds a 5-4 lead.
Home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman aided the Reds when it appeared Luke Maile had taken a strike three. But Dreckman called it a ball and Maile blooped a single to right. Friedl then homered.
But the lead was to change hands a sixth and final time in the Pittsburgh seventh against Ian Gibaut.
Ji Hwan Bae grounded to second and Jonathan India tried to short-hop it, but it skippped off his glove into right field. It was ruled an error, but later changed to an infield hit.
With one out, Bryan Reynolds singled and Ke’Bryan Hayes singled home Bae. Miguel Andujar hit a double play ball to India, but shortstop Elly De La Cruz threw wildly to first and Reynolds scored to make it 7-5.
The Reds desperately tried for a seventh lead change in the ninth against Pittsburgh closer David Bednar, who was wilder than a Pamplona bull.
His first six pitches were balls and the first four gave Friedl a walk. Spencer Steer grounded to third and Hayes tried for a 5-4-3 double play. Friedl, though, beat his throw to second, the second time in the game Friedl beat a double play ground ball to second base.
That put the potential tying runs on base with no outs. But Christian Encarnacion-Strand hit into a double play. Bednar then walked Joey Votto on a full count, putting runners on third and first.
But it ende when Bednar struck out Noelvi Marte on four pitches, his 37th save in 40 chances and 14th straight, but surely the most wobbly of them all.
Both sides used seven pitchers and they threw 381 pitches, 197 by the Reds and 184 by the Pirates.
Pittsburgh did everything it could to gift wrap a win for the Reds before handing them their third straight loss and fourth in five games.
The Reds stranded the bases loaded in the first and scored a run in the second but stranded two more. In the first two innings, Pittsburgh pitchers issued four walks and hit a batter, but the Reds scored only one run.
Cincinnati starter Andrew Abbott pitched three scoreless innings and struck out six.
But Hayes led the fourth with a home run. And number eight hitter Henry Davis crushed only his third home run, a 431-footer in the fifth.
Buck Farmer came on to pitch in the sixth with the Reds leading, 3-2, and gave up home runs to Jared Triola, his third, and to Endy Rodriguez, his fifth, which pushed the Pirates back in front, 4-3.
Friedl’s homer in the seventh reclaimed the lead, but once again the bullpen couldn’t close the deal, insuring the Reds would suffer their 38th blown lead this season.
The Pirates are on a hot streak with 15 wins in their last 24 games that includes taking recent series from the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs.