Originally posted on Raise the Jolly Roger!  |  Last updated 9/11/12

The Pirates’ 14-inning loss to the Reds Monday night was easily the most frustrating one of the entire season. The Pirates had a great chance to come up with a feel-good road win in Cincinnati, but instead dropped their fourth in a row and are now within four games of the .500 mark. And again, the way it happened made it feel even worse.

Wandy Rodriguez came up big again, and continues to be the Pirates’ best starter of late. He came out firing a striking amount of fastballs, all with good velocity and great location. The strategy kept the Reds off balance and was working beautifully for him all night.

The Bucs grabbed a lead in the fourth when Andrew McCutchen led off with a homer for his second bomb in two days. They tacked on two more thanks to two walks, a Jose Tabata double, a Rod Barajas bloop single, and a Wandy ground out. The 3-0 lead seemed to be pretty comfortable – even in this small park with the Reds’ powerful bats – thanks to Rodriguez’s rythym. He allowed a solo homer, but continued to cruise along into the seventh with relative ease.

That’s when things got ugly. Joey Votto led off with a single. OK, nothing wrong with that, he’s one of the best hitters on the planet. Wandy answered by getting a quick force out and a double play ball, but Brock Holt didn’t start it quick enough and Jay Bruce managed to beat it out by a millisecond. Todd Frazier then was completely jammed by a nice pitch, but got it just far enough to sneak past Holt as he stumbled and let it go off his glove. So to recap, Rodriguez had pitched just about perfectly after the leadoff single. The next batter was Dioner Navarro. Wandy was at 89 pitches. Clint Hurdle emerged from the dugout.

This made no sense whatsoever. Wandy was rolling. Navarro isn’t any good and was 0-2 against Wandy on the night.  Hurdle made the exact same mistake a few starts ago against the Brewers, when Rodriguez was rolling along, then allowed one baserunner in the seventh, and was lifted for Hughes. Hughes proceeded to blow the game. Clint didn’t learn his lesson. Hughes came in and proceeded to allow a double down the line that tied the game. Rodriguez had to be fuming – I certainly was. Hurdle has often left Erik Bedard, A.J. Burnett and James McDonald in games too long, but has been too catiious with Wandy a couple times now. Why?

Anyway, the Pirate offense was pretty silent from that point forward, but the bullpen kept on extending the game in dramatic fashion. Hughes pitched a scoreless eighth that involved a HBP of Brandon Phillips and a lot of back-and-forth yelling (Phillips later tweeted this about the exchange). Tony Watson worked around a leadoff walk in the ninth. Chris Resop loaded the bases with one out in the 10th but escaped. Joel Hanrahan put men on the corners with 1 out in the 11th but got out of it, largely thanks to a nice grab by Tabata in right. Chris Leroux pitched clean 12th and 13th innings. It was a fantastic effort by most of the ‘pen.

The Pirates couldn’t make it pay off. They had a golden opportunity off their old buddy Aroldis Chapman in the 10th, when he walked McCutchen and Garrett Jones to lead off the inning. Pedro Alvarez (who had a brutal evening) predictably struck out, and Tabata smoked a line drive but it went for an out. Gaby Sanchez worked a walk to load the bases, but Chapman was lifted (for the first time mid-inning all year) and the new pitcher Sam LeCure got Michael McKenry to end the threat.

It got worse. In the 14th, Brock Holt led off with a double. The last man off the bench Eric Fryer pinch hit and walked. McCutchen reached on an infield hit. Bases loaded, nobody out. Unfortunately, instead of having Jones up, Chase d’Arnaud came up to bat. Why? Because Hurdle inexplicably ran d’Arnaud for Jones after his walk in the 10th. Jones wasn’t even the lead runner or the go-ahead run at that point. It made no sense, and cost the Pirates dearly as the light-hitting d’Arnaud popped out. Alvarez finished his brutal night with a grounder that didn’t get through the drawn in infield, and Tabata bounced out to complete the ugly trifecta. No runs.

If that didn’t give sleepy Bucs fans a big enough sense of impending doom, Rick van den Hurk taking the mound did. (Nothing against him – he had a nice year in AAA, but not exactly the guy you want with such a crucial game on the line. Not that there were a ton of options left at that point.) Anyway, van den Hurk allowed a leadoff single, then McKenry foolishly tried to throw to second (late) on Phillips’ bunt. After a fly out, strikeout, and a wild pitch, a ground ball to d’Arnaud ended it when Chase dove and couldn’t come up with it. The Pirates lost with d’Arnaud missing the final out, and van den Hurk on the mound. Both saw their first major league action of the season tonight.

This was a really rough loss. A lot of it is on Hurdle, as the quick hook of Rodriguez and the removal of Jones were terrible and inexcusable decisions. The Bucs also brought it upon themselves with more dreadful struggles with runners in scoring position, and a general lack of offense in the rest of the later innings. The Cardinals lost again, but the Bucs squandered yet another opportunity to pick up a game and instead lost their most devastating contest of the season.

Reds 4, Pirates 3 / Box / 2012 Record: 72-68 / Next: Tuesday, at Reds, 7:10

MVP: McCutchen (+.318) / LVP: Alvarez (-.404) / Key play: The walkoff hit

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