Reds’ comeback falls short
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Leake is still looking for his first victory in Pittsburgh.
Andrew McCutchen hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh inning and drove in three runs to lead the Pirates past the Cincinnati Reds 6-5 on Friday night.
Leake allowed five runs in the first two innings for Cincinnati but made it through six and gave his teammates a chance to rally. Still, the right-hander remained winless in eight career starts at PNC Park.
“I put myself in battle mode right away,” Leake said. “At least I was able to right myself and fight them off for a few innings. It wasn’t my best start but it could have been worse.”
Leake gave up five runs and 10 hits with two walks and two strikeouts. All five runs came in the first two innings as the Pirates built a 5-1 lead on Russell Martin’s RBI single in the first and consecutive two-run singles by Neil Walker and McCutchen in the second.
“They came in with a good game plan and they attacked me before I attacked them,” Leake said. “I put us in a really big hole.”
Cincinnati climbed out of that hole, though. Brandon Phillips’ second home run of the game, a two-run drive to center off Tony Watson (1-0) in the top of the seventh, tied the score at 5.
McCutchen’s leadoff shot against J.J. Hoover (0-3) in the bottom half put the Pirates back in front.
“It was important for us to answer back right away,” McCutchen said. “That’s the type of team we are. We’re fighters.”
The first four batters in Pittsburgh’s lineup — Starling Marte, Walker, McCutchen and Garrett Jones — had two hits each as the Pirates totaled 12. They entered the game batting .153, the second-worst average for a major league team through nine games since 1921, according to STATS. The 2003 Detroit Tigers hit .140 in their first nine games on the way to a 119-loss season.
Pittsburgh had scored only 21 runs in its first nine games, but every Pirates position player had a hit by the end of the fifth inning Friday.
“This is what we’re capable of doing,” McCutchen said. “We have good hitters in our lineup. It’s a matter of getting in that Michael Jordan-type mentality where you start thinking that you can outdo the next guy. That’s how we were tonight. One guy started hitting, then everyone else did. That’s how it’s always been in baseball.”
Hoover, a Pittsburgh native who still lives in the area, took over the big league lead in losses.
“It seems like he leaves that one pitch out over the plate and they’re not missing it,” Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. “You’re going to give it up sometimes and he gave it up to one of the best. McCutchen isn’t a slouch. He’s one of the best players in the league.”
Marte extended his streak of multihit games to six. He is 12 for 24 during that stretch. The leadoff batter also has had a hit in the first inning in each of those six games.
“He may not be the typical leadoff hitter who draws a lot of walks, but the thing he does well is that he swings at good pitches,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “When he sees the first hittable pitch, he goes after it aggressively and puts a good swing on it.”
The Pirates had not scored more than four runs in any of their previous 13 games against the NL Central rival Reds. Pittsburgh has won three of four overall after starting the season 1-5.
Phillips hit a leadoff homer in the second inning off Pirates starter A.J. Burnett. The cleanup-hitting second baseman has four home runs this season and 10 career two-homer games.
“He hit two home runs to straightaway center and you just don’t see that very often in this ballpark,” Hurdle said. “That was impressive.”
However, Phillips struck out to end the game with runners on first and second as Jason Grilli pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his fourth save in as many opportunities.
Burnett went six innings and allowed three runs on six hits. He struck out eight and walked three.
“I need to start working deeper into games,” said Burnett, pulled after 106 pitches. “I’m trying to throw nasty pitches to get strikeouts when I don’t necessarily make nasty pitches and it’s running up my pitch counts.”
After Walker and McCutchen gave the Pirates a four-run lead in the second, Cincinnati cut the deficit to 5-3 as Devin Mesoraco drove in a run with a groundout in the fourth and then hit an RBI double in the sixth.
Baker was happy that Leake was able to give the Reds six innings, especially since they began a stretch of playing on 20 consecutive days.
“He really settled down after those first two innings and that was important because we can’t afford to blow out the bullpen this early in the season,” Baker said.
NOTES: Baker gave C Ryan Hanigan and 3B Todd Frazier the night off. Hanigan is hitting .043 with one hit in 23 at-bats and Frazier is hitless in his last 11 at-bats. … RHP Johnny Cueto (1-0, 2.77 ERA) starts Saturday night for the Reds against Pirates LHP Jeff Locke (0-1, 6.00). Cueto has a 12-4 lifetime record against Pittsburgh.