Coming Up Short

Published 3:23 am Wednesday, August 4, 2010

PITTSBURGH — It took their best player getting hit near his head with a pitch to awaken Pittsburgh’s offense enough to snap another losing streak.

Rookie Neil Walker had three hits and drove in a career-high four runs and the last-place Pirates snapped a five-game skid by holding on for a 7-6 victory over the first-place Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night.

Walker had a three-run double that followed Jose Tabata’s RBI single just after outfielder Andrew McCutchen left the game after he was hit by a pitch in the back of the neck. It was all part of a six-run second inning for Pittsburgh, which had scored only two runs combined in losing its previous four.

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“Oh yeah, definitely,” Walker said when asked if his big hit coming just after McCutchen was nearly beaned made it feel any better. “I mean, that wasn’t going through my mind when I stepped into the box — I was just hoping to hit a ball hard — but the way it worked out like that was really good. Obviously, we’re happy to see Cutch OK.”

McCutchen remained on the ground on top of home plate for several minutes after sustaining a contusion of the back of his neck when a fastball from Mike Leake struck him just under the back of his batting helmet. McCutchen walked off under his own power but appeared disoriented as he headed into the dugout tunnel to the clubhouse.

The Pirates said preliminary X-rays came back normal, and McCutchen does not have any concussion-like symptoms. He is officially listed as day to day.

Brandon Phillips went 3 for 5 with two RBIs and Chris Heisey had two RBI singles for the Reds, who came in having won three straight and five of six. Despite playing without two regulars in first baseman Joey Votto (NL leader in batting and home runs) and shortstop Orlando Cabrera, Cincinnati remained in first place in the NL Central because St. Louis lost to Houston on Tuesday.

Pitching on nine days’ rest as the Reds attempt to limit the rookie’s innings, Leake (7-3) had allowed six runs in a game only once in 19 career starts before the Pittsburgh second inning.

He was charged with seven runs — six earned — and seven hits with a walk and two strikeouts in five innings for his second consecutive defeat.

Cincinnati nearly erased a 7-1 deficit with two runs in the sixth and another in the seventh off Paul Maholm. Phillips hit a two-run double off all-star Evan Meek in the eighth, but new Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan earned his first save since May 24, 2009, when he was with Washington, by striking out two after allowing Scott Rolen’s leadoff single in the ninth.

“I was a little nervous, I’m not going to lie,” said Hanrahan, who inherited the closer’s role to share with Meek when Ocvtavio Dotel was traded Saturday. “It had been a while since I was in a save situation.”

The Pirates tripled the number of runs they had produced in their previous 38 innings combined — and nearly doubled the three hits they had in losing 4-0 to the Reds on Monday night — when they took a 6-0 lead in the second on five hits.

“That was the whole ballgame, that one inning,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “We had opportunities. We just kept chipping away, chopping away.”

Playing his second game with Pittsburgh since being acquired via trade, Chris Snyder had a two-run single. Four batters later — and immediately after McCutchen was hit, Tabata drove in Snyder with a single. Walker followed with his bases-clearing double, and he would add an RBI single in the fifth.

“I’m not going to say I wasn’t thinking about it, but I was trying to just go after the next hitter,” Leake said. “I threw a few pitches I thought I shouldn’t have thrown.”

Maholm (7-9) allowed four runs, nine hits and two walks with two strikeouts in six-plus innings.

“The guys really came out and swung the bats and scored,” said Pirates manager John Russell, whose team was in the midst of its sixth losing streak this season of at least five games. “We tried to let them back in it a little, but we finished it off. It was a solid win for us.”

Notes: The start of the game was delayed 85 minutes by rain. … Cabrera was placed on the DL on Tuesday with a strained left oblique. Votto was not in the lineup for the second consecutive game with a sprained right wrist. He was intentionally walked as a pinch-hitter in the eighth and stayed in the game defensively. The Pirates have had six losing streaks of at least five games this season. They have failed to win more than three in a row all season.