Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 8/3/12
CINCINNATI The absurdity of a meaningful Cincinnati Reds-Pittsburgh Pirates series in August manifested itself by who is missing in the Great American Ball Park press box this weekend. Three beat writers who are regularly assigned to the Reds aren't covering any of the three games this weekend between the Reds and Pirates in a land dispute over first place in the National League Central. And why aren't they here? One scheduled his vacation before the season when he looked at the schedule and decided, "This series won't mean anything." Another scheduled a family-type re-union this weekend for the same reason. And the third was assigned to cover the Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities in Canton. But as Gomer Pyle used to say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise. On August 3 the Reds and Pirates were in showdown mode the Reds, who have made the playoffs once sinde 1995 and the Pirates, who have not had a winning season since 1992. And round one went to the Reds In a beguiling manner. Chris Heisey hit an an inside-the-park home run off the top of as th the left field wall, pitcher Mat Latos hit a two-run home run and the Reds won, 3-0. Latos also held the Pirates to four singles over 7 13 innings as the Reds pushed their division lead to 4 games. Reds manager Dusty Baker was in high spirits, a giddy mood, before Friday's game and somebody said, "Well, you don't seem nervous." Said Bakeer snappishly, "Why am I going to be nervous for? I mean, I love this. This is what I live for as a player, as a coach and as a manager. Nervous? If I'm nervous, my players are going to be even more nervous. I've been through this stuff more than they have. I'm the one who has to be calm here, don't you think? "You can't be out there acting like this series is nothing, but you know it is," Baker added. His players seemed more excited, pumped-up, ready to play, than being nervous. "This is absolutely what it is all about, absolutely," said right fielder Jay Bruce. "And it is good for the National League Central. The Pirates are relevant again, they're a great team and they've been playing great. "We're both confident and it's fun, man, why we play the game," Bruce added. "You can be good or bad on paper, but as long as you go out there and perform, that's all that matters." All season long, the pundits and from afar oserves have expected the Pirates to fold their tents like a Sahara caravan and vanish, but they are still standing like the main tent for Ringling Brother Barnum & Bailey. "They haven't gone away yet and now you assume they aren't going to," said Bruce. "When you start assuming, look past teams, that's when they bit you. They are beating everybody we're beating right now. I don't think they're wondering about themselves any more. I think they believe, which is what you have to do. "We're here to win, they're here to win and I guarantee you we think we're the better team and they think they're the better team," he said. Rookie shortstop Zack Cozart hasn't seen Pittsburgh's two decades of futility, but he knows what he sees this year and knows the importance of this series. And to prove it, he singled three times Friday night, including a bunt single right after Latos homered. "Coming up as a kid you want to get to the big leagues and you want to be on a winning team that is in it all the way to the end," said Cozart. "We have a great opportunity here, playing so well without Joey Votto (14-3) and we've played a few games without Brandon Phillips. We still seem to find ways to win, something very important when you don't have your big guys in there. "They're playing well, we're playing well, so it should be tons of fun," Cozart added. "The Pirates showed at the trade deadline they're trying to make it this year by making a lot of moves." The Pirates added Wandy Rodriguez, who faced the Reds Friday night. And they added Gaby Sanchez, Travis Snider and Chad Qualls. The Reds' only acquisiton was relief pitcher Jonathan Braxton. "They are a lot like us their pitching and defense has carried them," said Cozart. "And the've had some timely hitting. Playing the Pirates in meaningful games late in the year is a little different for guys around here and, so, good for the Pirates. But, we're playing well, too." Said center fielder Drew Stubbs, "It's a simple matter. They're trying to close the gap and we're trying to widen it." The Reds entered the three-game series with a 3 game lead and Stubbs said, "Ultimately these are just three more games toward the end of the season and every game is equally important. But when each game within the division means double in the standings, it is a bit more important." Of the Pirates surfacing from the depths of despair, Stubbs said, "It's a new year with new faces over there. They started good last year, too, and a lot of their guys so what works and saw what didn't and they improved themselves for the better. We're not expecting any collapse or subsiding on their part. We just continue to press on the way we have the last few weeks and not worry about the Pirates or anybody else."
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