CINCINNATI — As the afternoon faded and the Cincinnati Reds’ chances against the Pittsburgh Pirates dimmed with the daylight, a Twisted Sister song screamed over the public address system in Great American Ball Park: “We’re Not Gonna Take It Any More.”
No, the Reds certainly aren’t gonna take it any more. They can’t take any more from the Pirates than they took in the first two games of a three-game series in Great American Ball Park.
They’ve taken all they can take — two straight losses that sent them packing. By losing Friday, 4-2, and Saturday afternoon, 8-3, the Reds assured themselves that they’ll have to take it to Pittsburgh. They finish second in the National League wild card, behind the Pirates, losing home-field advantage in the wild card playoffs and go to PNC Park Tuesday for the one-game play-in game.
A barrage of six home runs by the Pirates, five against starter Bronson Arroyo, locked the Reds out of hosting the play-in game. After the two teams finish the season Sunday with a meaningless game in Great American, the two teams head for PNC Park and a one-game winner-goes-on and loser-goes-home showdown.
And Reds manager Dusty Baker had a surprise waiting after the game — Johnny Cueto is going to pitch Tuesday after spending nearly 2 ½ months on the disabled list with a lat injury and making only two starts, one against the Houston Astros and one against the New York Mets.
“Cueto is The Man, he’s our man,” said Baker. Mat Latos was in line to make the start, but Baker said, “Mat’s arm is barking, bothering him. So we’re going with Cueto.” Asked it pitching Cueto is a calculated gamble, Baker said, “Not really. Latos’ arm is barking so we can’t pitch him. It’s not a calculated gamble, it is a necessity.”
First baseman Joey Votto is rightfully disappointed that the Reds won’t be playing in Cincinnati, but doesn’t consider it a lost cause.
“It just so happens they get last at-bat in Pittsburgh,” said Votto. “I would really have loved to have played here. We have fantastic fans here and that was apparent in Game 5 against the Giants last year in the NLDS. I’ve heard a crowd so excited, so energized. And Ive played in a lot of different ball parks.
“But we are going to have to earn things,” he said. “We are going to have to play good to get baseball back in Cincinnati this year. With one game, I’m not sure there is an advantage one way or the other. It’s like a flip of the coin and maybe because they’re home they might have a 51 percent advantage to our 49.
“But they’ve proved here (winning the first two games of this series) and we’ve proved in Pittsburgh (the Reds won two of three in the last series there) that it can be a bit overrated. I’m sure they’ll feel it’s to their advantage and that’s fine. But I’ve noticed over the years that the teams that get to the World Series have to overcome something, and typically something on the road. This is our first challenge on Tuesday.”
Right fielder Jay Bruce, who drove in two of the Reds three runs Saturday with a double, knows his team has put itself in jeopardy, if not double jeopardy,
“It’s obviously tougher on the road with the atmosphere and I’m sure it will be crazy in Pittsburgh,” he said. “You play good baseball, you win. That’s what you have to do. Anything is possible in baseball. A one-game playoff, anything can happen. You want to be home but that’s not the case and we can’t do anything about it and it doesn’t matter where we play now.”
Manager Dusty Baker is thinking along the same lines. He has no choice.
“The home field was no advantage for us last year in the playoffs,” said Baker. “We beat them two in San Francisco and they beat us three games here. And this is only one game so it depends on who gets the best-pitched game and who plays the best fundamental baseball.
“And Tuesday is a new day,” he added. “This hurts big-time, but you can’t bring it back and you can’t dwell on it. You have to start over again.”
Starting over? That’s what Cueto is doing and if he isn’t up to it the season slogs to a disappointing halt for the Reds.
Arroyo was pitching with a bad back after Homer Bailey pitched Friday with a bad leg and Latos is sitting out Tuesday with a bad arm.
“I had something lock up before the game started, felt like a rib was out of place,” said Arroyo. “I wasn’t that comfortable out there. But you can’t get away with leaving balls up in the zone as much as I did in a ballpark as small as this with the lineup they have. I have never pitched with something like that in my back. I was in the tunnel getting ready and it started locking up, like a stab between my ribs and I was having trouble breathing.
After two scoreless innings, the Pirates adjusted their bomb sights and took Arroyo apart. With two outs in the third Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen hit back-to-back home runs for a 2-0 lead.
The Reds scored three in the bottom of the third, two on Jay Bruce’s double, to take a 3-3 lead that lasted only long enough for the Pirates to trot off the field and grab their bats.
Pedro Alvarez hit Arroyo’s first pitch in the top of the fourth 431 feet for his 36th homer, quickly tying the game, 3-3.
The Pirates put it away in the fifth with two more home runs, Walker’s second of the game and a two-run blast by Marlon Byrd to make it 6-3. For good measure, pinch-hitter Andrew Lambo hit his team’s sixth home run, his career first, off Logan Ondrusek with two outs in the sixth.
Meanwhile, the Reds were up to old habits — putting runners on, getting them over into scoring position, and leaving them on.
The filled the bases in the first inning against Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton but Todd Frazier flied to left.
They put their first two aboard in the fifth and had the bases loaded with one out but Zack Cozart struck out on three pitches and Ryan Hanigan flied to center.
They made one last counter-attack in the sixth — two on with one out. Joey Votto struck out and Cesar Izturis grounded out.