PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Cincinnati Reds are heading to the postseason.
Hopefully, their offense returns by then.
Mike Leake pitched six shutout inning to make a compelling case that he’ll be ready if needed in the playoffs, but the Reds fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1 on Saturday night when Andrew McCutchen hit a solo home run in the ninth off reliever Jonathan Broxton.
The Reds, who already have the NL Central locked up, have scored just five times in their last four games.
“We want to make sure guys get their at-bats to try to get ready and get things rolling,” said acting manager Chris Speier. “We still have some time. We’d sure like to see it turn around sooner than later.”
A day after Homer Bailey pitched Cincinnati’s first no-hitter in 24 years, Leake was pretty sharp in his own right. The right-hander gave up four hits, striking out three and walking three.
Leake figures to be out of Cincinnati’s starting rotation when the playoffs start but insists he’ll be ready when called upon.
“I hope we stay in it for the whole time so that I can put some significant role into it,” Leake said. “I’ve just got to hope I make it in the bullpen or hope we make it into the second round so I can play a role.”
The Pirates, who were no-hit for the first time in 41 years on Friday, scratched out eighth on Saturday to win for just the seventh time this month.
McCutchen’s 31st homer helped Pittsburgh keep a record 20th consecutive losing season at bay for at least a day. The All-Star hit a 2-2 fastball from Broxton (4-4) a couple rows deep in right-center before getting mobbed at home plate by his teammates.
Two innings after a powerful drive to left-center died at the wall, McCutchen took a 2-2 fastball from Broxton and sent it into the seats in right-center.
“I just kept running until it went out,” McCutchen said.
Joel Hanrahan (5-1) worked out of a two-on, two-out jam in the ninth, setting the stage for McCutchen. Pedro Alvarez had two hits for the Pirates.
“Wins have been hard to come by,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “We didn’t let this one get away after we took the one-run lead and they came back and tied it in the eighth. We were able to answer back. It was a good team victory tonight.”
A lone run on Friday was just enough for Cincinnati to preserve Bailey’s gem, and a tying single in the eighth by Scott Rolen on Saturday appeared to give the Reds life. The Pirates loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning off Cincinnati reliever Logan Ondrusek, but Starling Marte popped out harmlessly in foul territory.
Hanrahan came on in a rare non-save situation and worked around a couple of walks to get to the bottom of the ninth. Josh Harrison lined sharply to center to lead off the inning and McCutchen smacked Broxton’s offering into the stands to help the Pirates improve to 77-81.
“That’s the way it goes,” Rolen said. “Hanrahan is out there. He’s throwing the ball well. He’s had a great year. There’s no easy at bats when he’s out there. We put something together and then they came back and got us there in the bottom.”
Pittsburgh needs to win its final four games to avoid extending the longest losing season streak in North American professional sports history, and the Pirates’ seventh walk-off win of the season improved their record to 14-34 since Aug. 8.
Back then Pittsburgh was trying to track down the Reds for the division lead. The bottom fell out shortly thereafter and getting no-hit for the first time on Friday night provided an ugly exclamation point on a collapse that turned a once-promising season into one that would end without a winning record for the 20th straight time.
While the Reds focus on the playoffs, Pittsburgh is already working on next season.
Kyle McPherson, who is trying to get a jumpstart one of the open rotation spots in 2013, finally found some solid footing in his third big-league start. The 24-year-old failed to get out of the fifth inning in each of his previous two outings due to command issues that led to bloated pitch counts.
There were no such issues against the Reds. Cincinnati led off the first with a pair of sharply hit singles but couldn’t score, and McPherson allowed just four hits over his six innings of work, striking five and walking just one.
Problem was, the Pirates couldn’t get anything going off Mike Leake. Pittsburgh ended any chance of getting no-hit for a second straight night early when Josh Harrison singled with one out in the first, but otherwise Leake matched McPherson zero for zero.
NOTES: The series concludes Sunday. Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.83 ERA) starts for Cincinnati against Pittsburgh’s Wandy Rodriguez (12-13, 3.79) … The Pirates drew their 17th season sellout of the season Saturday and topped 2 million in attendance for the fourth time in franchise history.