Well, you would think that the two hottest teams would hook up in a pitching battle; isn't pitching what brings ya wins? Mat Latos had his A game on, getting the Bucs to beat the ball into the ground and whiff, leading the sizzling Reds to a 3-0 win in the showdown opener.
Wandy Rodriguez wasn't bad, either. He gave up a second inning run when Chris Heisey hammered a fly off the wall in left center that Starling Marte made a leaping effort to grab but came up empty. Cutch was slow on the backup, and Heisey motored home, sliding in and getting the call at the plate on a bang-bang play that ump Bob Davidson probably missed; on Root Sports replay, it looked like Rod Barajas had the dish blocked.
In the fifth, Wandy was cruising with two outs. Ryan Hannigan was down 0-2, took a couple of chase pitches, and then singled. Then he fed his mound opponent Latos a first pitch fastball to get ahead, and the Red pitcher wasn't taking; instead he took it yard to make it 3-0. That would be the final damage; he went seven innings, giving up three runs on seven hits with four K after tossing 88 pitches.
The Pirates had their first threat earlier that inning when Neil Walker and Rod Barajs drew walks, putting runners on first and second. But Clint Barmes pulled a pitch on the inside black to short, and the DP ended the mild jam.
In the eighth, the Bucs made some noise again. Pedro and Mike McKenry singled to put runners at first and second with an out, and the wheels turned. Jonathan Broxton took the bump for Cincy and Gaby Sanchez grabbed a stick for Pittsburgh. Broxton won that matchup easily; he pumped high heat to get ahead of Sanchez 0-2, and after a couple of fouls, Gaby rolled over on a pitch away and bounced into 6-4-3 DP.
Chad Qualls pitched a clean half frame, striking out Ryan Ludwick to tie the bow. Aroldis Chapman took over in the ninth. Marte battled for nine pitches before grounding out to third. Travis Snider struck out, seeing a trio of 100 MPH fastballs. Cutch got smacked high on the shoulder by a 101 heater, and jogged to first while giving Chapman the evil eye. But Jones went down swinging on three pitches; the last tripping the radar at 102, and round one went to the Reds.
It's not often Chapman gets to face two lefties; they're hitting .113 off him. But Snider and Jones have been hitting southpaws OK of late, and the options on the bench were Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer, so pick your poison. But it was fairly predictable that the Cuban lefty would strike them both out.
What may not be so predictable is how the Pirates react tomorrow. Cutch was pretty animated on the bench after the game as the team lingered, and judging by the glares, it wouldn't have taken much of a spark to get them out in the field to discuss the franchise getting hit by a pitch with two outs in the ninth, nobody on and down by three. It was a message, and somewhere along the line tomorrow, it will be answered. And the Reds timed it pretty well, with Joey Votto and probably Brandon Phillips both out of the lineup tomorrow. So there's game 2's sidebar.
As for the game, both Pittsburgh and Cincy are built to be seven inning teams; the back ends of the bullpens make it a short game. The Bucs didn't help themselves, with just four singles and three walks on the night. They ended three frames with DP balls and another with Cutch thrown out stealing. The Pirates made just three outs in the air. And with all that, they'd still be playing if they got a call at home and Wandy could finish off the #8 hitter after going up 0-2.
James McDonald and Max Leake get it on tomorrow for what should be an interesting contest. We'll see if some of tonight's juice flows, and more importantly, if J-Mick can rekindle his ace karma on the hill.