PITTSBURGH — Winning four of six games on a road trip against division rivals is a good thing. Bryan Price had no desire to look for a silver lining Thursday.
The normally even-tempered Reds manager was furious at a pair of calls by umpires in the bottom of the 12th inning of a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh that snapped the Reds three-game winning streak and cost them a shot at topping .500 for the first time this season.
"I’m really angry about what’s happened here. I’m not at all happy about this," said Price. "Four-and-two? Five-and-one would have been a lot better."
The Reds will return home for a three-game weekend series against Toronto with a 35-36 record.
What first got Price so heated was a balk call against left-hander Tony Cingrani by first base umpire and crew chief Jerry Layne that moved Gaby Sanchez into scoring position instead of wiping him off the base paths with an apparent pickoff. Price was upset that the call wasn’t made until after the pickoff.
Balk calls are like balls and strikes: they can’t be argued.
"That’s an instantaneous call. As soon as you see a balk, you call the balk," said Price. "To me, what happens with left-handers is no balks are called until someone gets picked off. I know it’s a hard call, it’s a very difficult call on a left-hander with a good move. I just thought there was a hesitation (in the call). I just thought there was a hesitation (in the call). I didn’t think he balked. I think he did the same thing he does every other time he throws to first base."
Cingrani never got an explanation of what exactly it was that he did wrong.
"They never do. Ever. I’ve never had one explanation. They just go ‘Oh, you’re going to the plate," and that’s it. Okay," said Cingrani, who has two of the eight pickoffs by Reds pitchers this season.
His move is considered one of the best in baseball. Balks are almost always a subjective call. To Cingrani, this one was no different than any other he has done.
"A million times," Cingrani said. "And they just pick and choose when they call it."
Sanchez eventually scored the winning run when Russell Martin took a bases loaded walk with two outs on a 3-1 pitch that appeared to be a strike. Strike zone trackers on TV and even on MLB.com indicated the pitch was in the strike zone. According to Price, home plate umpire Mike Estabrook had been calling it a strike all game.
"We’re in the 12th inning of a ball game, the strike zone has already been established and the low strike had been called," said Price. "And to the credit of the home plate umpire, consistently to no advantage of either team. And then to have that pitch right there that split the plate at the bottom of the strike zone that had been established and was called ball four.
"I’m not saying we would have won this game but it certainly didn’t give us an opportunity to go out there and continue to compete in the 13th."
Devin Mesoraco, on his 26th birthday, gave the Reds a chance to play extras with his 10th home run of the season, a one-out, solo home run to left field in the ninth inning off of Pittsburgh closer Jason Grilli. The home run not only tied the game but it was his first since June 3 against San Francisco and established a career high for Mesoraco.
Mesoraco was just one subplot to the game. After collecting 46 hits in their previous three games, the Reds got just eight Thursday. Homer Bailey was in control of things for the first four innings, including retiring nine straight to start, but then became very hittable and lasted only another 1 2/3 innings. Sam LeCure and Aroldis Chapman came on and put out Pittsburgh scoring threats that could have resulted in the game ending much sooner than the four hours, 16 minutes it took not counting a 35-minute rain delay. The Reds bullpen pitched a total of 5 1/3 shutout innings before the 12th inning.
There was no interest in subplots, however. There was only frustration at a missed opportunity, an opportunity that didn’t get any help from the umpires in the final inning.