|Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey throws against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/David Kohl)|
Pirates' hopes fading after sixth straight loss
CINCINNATI—The little things added up to a disappointing sixth straight loss for Pittsburgh.
Homer Bailey pitched seven solid innings and the Cincinnati Reds came up with just enough offense to squeeze out a 2-1 win Wednesday night for a three-game sweep of the Pirates.
Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett suffered his first loss in four decisions against the Reds this season. Burnett (15-7), 0-3 in five starts since beating Los Angeles on Aug. 16, allowed five hits and two runs with two walks and eight strikeouts.
The Reds (87-57) scored both of their runs on outs while moving 30 games over .500 for the first time since they were 96-66 on Oct. 3, 1999. They widened their lead in the NL Central over second-place St. Louis to 11 1/2 games, while the Pirates' hopes for a wild card spot continued fading.
The Reds cashed in a bit of good fortune to take a 1-0 lead in the third inning. Catcher Ryan Hanigan led off with a lined single to center field and moved to second one out later on Brandon Phillips' bouncer up the middle. Both runners moved up on Burnett's wild pitch, and Hanigan scored on Wilson Valdez's chopper to second.
"The wild pitch set up that first run," said Burnett. "It was a well-pitched game on Homer (Bailey's) side. You have to tip your hat to him. I was trying to keep it close. I tried to break that pitch off. It stands out more in a close game."
The Pirates tied it in the fourth on singles by Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez to lead off the inning before leaving the bases loaded when Bailey struck out Burnett.
They missed another scoring opportunity in the sixth when Alex Presley tripled down the right-field line with one out and was caught stealing home when Clint Barmes couldn't get his bat on a suicide squeeze attempt.
"We were trying to scratch out a run," manager Clint Hurdle said. "They pitched out. It was a good call by them."
Barmes tried to get his bat on the ball but it eluded him. Hanigan was able to scramble to the plate to nip Presley.
"I almost got my bat on it," Barmes said. "I did everything I could but when I released my top hand trying to reach the ball, the barrel of the bat went underneath it."
Bailey's foot slipped on the pitch out. A pitch that was supposed to be high-and-away was suddenly low.
"All the credit goes to Dusty (Baker) and (bench coach Chris) Speier," Bailey said. "Hanigan did a great job. He ended up with chalk and dirt all over his face."
Cincinnati's win and the Cardinals' 3-2 loss at San Diego cut to eight the Reds' magic number for clinching the division. Any combination of Reds wins and Cardinals losses adding up to eight seals the title for Cincinnati.
Bailey (11-9) allowed six hits and one run with two walks and four strikeouts to extend his career high in victories.
Sam LeCure pitched a perfect eighth and rookie J.J. Hoover allowed a two-out hit before striking out pinch-hitter Jose Tabata to complete his first career save.
The score was tied 1-all when Ryan Ludwick led off Cincinnati's sixth with a double down the left-field line. He tagged and went to third on Jay Bruce's fly ball to deep center field then tagged and scored on Scott Rolen's sacrifice fly down the left-field line.
The Pirates missed Pedro Alvarez, who was scratched with discomfort in his wrist. He was unavailable as a pinch hitter in the ninth. Hurdle had to use right-handed batting Jose Tabata against Pittsburgh native, J.J. Hoover, who earned his first career save. Hoover is in the Reds' mix of closers as they rest Aroldis Chapman, who has shoulder fatigue.
Hoover didn't attach any significance to earning it against his hometown team.
"It was fun but I didn't look at it like that," Hoover said.
Notes: 3B Pedro Alvarez was scratched from Pittsburgh's original starting lineup less than an hour before the first pitch with what a spokesman called "right wrist discomfort." There was no definitive word before the game on when Alvarez suffered the injury or how long he might be out. ... 2B Neil Walker took batting practice Tuesday, but he still missed his 15th straight game with lower back tightness on Wednesday. He had no baseball-related activities planned for Wednesday or Thursday, manager Clint Hurdle said. "We'll see how he is on Friday," Hurdle said. ... Thursday's day off is the last on Pittsburgh's schedule. The Pirates are scheduled to finish with 20 games in 20 days.