By Hal McCoy
Every night Cincinnati Reds fans shake their heads and say, “It can’t get any worse.” Then it gets worse.
And it couldn’t get any worse than what unfolded Saturday night in front of 29,680 stunned fans.
The Reds lost, 13-12 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, which is ugly enough. But the method is beyond belief.
The Reds led, 9-0, after three innings. They led, 9-1, entering the sixth inning.
The Pirates then scored 12 unanswered runs against the arm weary Cincinnati bullpen, fivein the sixth, three in the seventh and four in the eighth to grab a 13-9 lead.
To their credit, the Reds didn’t quit. They scored two in the eighth and one in the ninth. And they had the tying run on third base with one out.
But Elly De La Cruz battled Pittsburgh relief pitcher Carmen Mlodzinski for 11 pitches before striking out and Jonathan India flied to shallow center to end it.
So the Reds are searching for some sugar to sweeten the bitter pill of a season getting away from them.
The Chicago Cubs came from 3-0 behind to beat Colorado, 6-3, and the Miami Marlins scored the winning run on a wild pitch to beat Milwaukee. And the Reds have only six games to cover the difference.
That meant the Reds are 2 1/2 games behind the Cubs and 1 1/2 games behind the Marlins for the last playoff berth. Just when they needed it most, they’ve lost four straight and five of six,
With the score tied, 9-9, entering the eighth, manager David Bell brought in closer Alexis Diaz, a guy who has struggled mightly recently.
And the struggle couldn’t be more profound on this night. He faced seven batters and retired one. He hit the first batter, then the Pirates bashed five hits and turned the 9-9 tie into a 13-9 lead.
The unimaginable comeback began in the sixth when Jared Triolo and Endy Rodriguez singled to start the inning against Reds starter Connor Phillips.
Alex Young replaced Phillips. After Ji Hwan Bae singled for a run and Joshua Palacios singled for anoother run, Bryan Reynolds homered and it was 9-5.
The Pirates tied it with four in the eighth when Alfonso Rivas cracked a three-run double off Lucas Sims.
Then came the eighth and the total meltdown by Diaz.
So how did the Reds construct that 9-0 lead that looked like a laugher that turned into a full-blown cry?
They scored three in the first on back-to-back home runs by Christian Encarnaion-Strand, a two-run rip, and Tyler Stephenson.
They scored five more in the second off Pittsburgh starter Bailey Falter, so how could they falter? The inning was highlighted by Stephenson’s two-run double and TJ Friedl’s inside the park home run into the right field corner.
It was Cincinnati’s first inside the park home run since 2012, when Jay Bruce did it in Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.
They added a third run in the third on Stuart Fairchild’s double and and Spencer Speer’s double.
Then came some pain. Dauri Moreta took the mound for the Pirates in the fifth and retired eight straight Reds. Why the pain. Moreta spent the first six years of his professional career with the Reds through last season.
When he left with two outs in the seventh, he held aloft a fist and pumped it vigorously.
After getting nine runs and 11 hits in the first three innings, the Reds didn’t have another hit under India broke a 0 for 16 slide with a single in the eighth inning.
Both teams had 16 hits and the Reds had 29 total bases to 22 for the Pirates.
Encarnacion-Strand had three hits and drove in four runs and Stephenson had two hits and drove in three.
On the Pittsburgh side, Rivas produced three hits and drove in five, Reynolds had two hits and drove in three and Bae contributed two hits and three RBI.