Apr 23, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Reds shortstop Ramon Santiago (7) scores a run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire/Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
PITTSBURGH — The easiest thing to do in baseball is to hustle. It’s a lesson learned in Little League and Knothole. When Bryan Price was named Reds manager last October he made a point of talking about the importance he wanted to place on doing the little things right, on playing the game the right way.
The Reds did a lot of those little things right Wednesday and it helped them to a 5-2 win against Pittsburgh at PNC Park.
The box score will show that the Reds were just 1-of-9 hitting with runners in scoring position but they scored three times on groundouts, including twice with batters beating out potential double plays. They took extra bases when the opportunities arose. They stole four bases and forced two throwing errors by Pirates catcher Chris Stewart.
They haven’t hit a home run in the first three games of this four-game series but yet have outscored the Pirates 14-9 and now find themselves just one game under .500 (10-11) after starting the season having lost eight of their first 11 games.
"We were able to scratch out our runs," said Price. "In many ways we forced their pitchers to have to be a little more concerned with our running game, hold the ball and step off and throw over and quicken up their deliveries. That benefits us if they’re getting uncomfortable on the mound, having to rush themselves or what might be. We want to take advantage of anything that might be out there and these guys have been aggressive."
The Reds trailed 2-1 heading into the top of the fifth inning. Alfredo Simon had overcome some early command issues and was in the process of putting together another outstanding starting performance but had just two hits against Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton in the first four innings.
Morton started the fifth by giving the Reds an opportunity. He hit catcher Devin Mesoraco with a pitch in the left hand and walked shortstop Ramon Santiago. Simon fouled off two attempts at sacrificing the runners up a base but got his third attempt down cleanly to do his job.
Billy Hamilton singled to left field to drive in Mesoraco and tie the game, 2-2.
Third base coach Steve Smith has been noticeable this first month of the season because of the number of times the Reds have had a runner thrown out at the plate already but this time Smith held up Santiago instead of sending him homeward. Santiago eventually scored the go-ahead run on the second error of the game by Stewart when the Pirates catcher’s throw attempting to cut down Hamilton from stealing second instead went into center field.
Hamilton scored to make it 4-2 when Jay Bruce beat out a possible double-play throw from shortstop Jordy Mercer for a fielder’s choice.
"This (Pittsburgh) is a team that might give you a lot a lot of times but you have to take advantage and tonight we did," said Bruce. "That goes along with playing the game the right way. We’re a team that expects a lot out of each other. It’s pretty simple. Running down the baseline hard is something that’s pretty simple. It’s something that some people may take for granted and it may not happen all of the time — and I’m not saying that every once in a while you don’t make a mistake and you don’t do it but as a team the concept that we stick by is hustle. It’s not very hard."
Roger Bernadina got the Reds on the board in the second inning without a hit. Bernadina drew a walk from Morton leading off the inning. He stole second, went to third on Stewart’s first throwing error of the game and then scored on a chopper to second baseman Neil Walker by Santiago. Walker was drawn in on the play but Bernadina left on contact and Walker had no chance at throwing him out.
Bruce led off the eighth inning with a double that just as easily could’ve been a single but he took advantage of a slight bobble of the ball by center fielder Andrew McCutchen. He went to third base on a wild pitch and scored when Mesoraco beat out a potential double play grounder.
All of those little things add up. They allowed Jonathan Broxton to work with some margin for error in the ninth inning, a margin he needed after allowing singles to Stewart and Starling Marte among the first three batters for the Pirates. Broxton then got Walker on a shallow fly ball to Zack Cozart at shortstop and McCutchen on a grounder to Cozart to end the game.
In Tuesday night’s 4-1 win, Reds catcher Brayan Pena’s single to right field in the seventh inning drove in the first run of the game. He rounded first hard and didn’t hesitate to head for second. He was initially ruled safe but a replay challenge overturned the call. It was a calculated risk by Pena but one he thought worthwhile. It falls right into line with the philosophy Price wants from his players.
"I was trying to get something going," said Pena. "Especially with it being late in the game I was trying to make something happen. That’s the way we have to play baseball. We have to be aggressive on the bases and we have to take advantage of every opportunity. You have to be smart about it but if you see the replay you see that he went to the line to get the baseball and he had to make the throw. I was trying to play hard and to hustle it down to make something happen."