The media had finished with Brandon Phillips late Wednesday night when a voice from the back of sports writer huddle threw one more question at the Reds second baseman.
“Excuse me,” outfielder Donald Lutz asked, “where did you get that shirt?”
Minutes after rescuing the Reds with a bases-loaded single in the 13th inning, driving in Derrick Robinson for a 2-1 victory over the Pirates at Great American Ball Park, Phillips had changed into a T-shirt with a drawing of a brontosaurus and the words, “All my friends are dead.”
For the first eight innings Wednesday, the Reds offense was as extinct as that dinosaur. When the eighth inning ended, the Reds hadn’t scored in 17 straight innings against Pittsburgh, which won game two of the series 4-0 Tuesday.
Jay Bruce rescued the Reds offense from the brink of extinction with his team-best 14th home run of the season and his third in the last four games.
On the verge of being shut out at home for the second straight night and for the third time in five games, the Reds got on the board at last with one out in the ninth inning Wednesday. Bruce’s solo home run sailed over the “Thank you, mom” Procter & Gamble ad in right field and tied the game at 1-1.
“Needless to say, we were pretty quiet all night offensively,” Bruce said. “I was just glad I could extend the game until we could take care of business later on. It would have been nice if we could have taken care of it in regulation, but you know how that goes.
“You play the game as hard as you can. That’s a good team over there. They play the game the right way. They’ve obviously proven that throughout the season.”
The Reds (44-29) stayed 2½ games behind St. Louis, which beat the Cubs on Wednesday. Pittsburgh (42-30) trails the Reds by 1½ games.
Bruce’s home run made Phillips’ heroics possible, but it took the Reds four innings to get that second run.
In the bottom of the 13th, after the Reds offense took another short summer vacation, Derrick Robinson started the rally by legged out an infield single to third base with one out.
“The main focus right there is to get on base,” Robinson said. “I knew they had the corners in, and I shot it over there, and it worked out.”
Shin-Soo Choo followed with a single to right. The Pirates walked Joey Votto intentionally to load the bases with one out. Then Phillips singled up the middle to score Robinson and win the game.
Phillips was 0-for-4 with a walk in his first five at-bats and had been 1-for-16 in the previous four games.
“It feels good to come through for the team,” Phillips said. “I haven’t been myself lately. To come through like that, I was due.”
“That’s what Brandon does,” Bruce said. “I’ve played with him six years now. I’ve become a little accustomed to it. He hadn’t been feeling great, but the guy puts the ball in play and he takes good at-bats.”
Bruce’s home run came off Pirates closer Jason Grilli, who entered the inning with a 0.85 ERA. He hadn’t allowed a run in his last 11 appearances or a home run all season (32 2/3 innings). This was his first blown save.
Earlier, cobwebs and icicles grew on the Reds bats. Crickets chirped in the dugout.
Zack Cozart almost scored in the second, for what it’s worth. He got a face full of dirt, not to mention dirt under his fingernails and up and down his Reds uniform. If home plate has a scent, Cozart got a good sniff as he slid by and touched it with his hand in the second inning — unfortunately just after the tag of Pirates catcher Russell Martin.
At that point, getting a whiff of the plate was about as good as got for the Reds, whose offense seemed to had taken a summer vacation at the worst of times, in the middle of a series against a team that was nipping at its heels in the National League Central.
The Reds, not shut out at home at all in 2012 or in the first two months of this season, were in danger of being shut out twice in a row for the first time since Aug. 30-31, 2011, by the Phillies.
The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the third inning. Starling Marte, who tripled and scored in the first inning Tuesday, tripled again, this time with two outs. He scored when Bronson Arroyo couldn’t handle Russell Martin’s hard bouncer back to the mound.
That was the only run Arroyo allowed in seven innings, and it was unearned. He gave up six hits, walked three and struck out three, lowering his ERA to 3.04.
The Reds bullpen got the job done after Arroyo. Tony Cingrani, Alfredo Simon, Aroldis Chapman, Sam LeCure and Manny Parra combined to give up two hits in six scoreless innings. LeCure was the only reliever to throw two innings.
The Reds threatened in the first. Robinson walked to lead off the game, and then Choo reached on an error. Votto grounded into a fielder’s choice to move Robinson to third, but Phillips grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Cozart walked with two outs in the second and tried to score on a double by Ryan Hanigan, but Martin got the tag down in time.
The Reds had runners at the corners with two outs in the fourth, but Cozart struck out looking to end the inning.
The Pirates starter Jeff Locke threw seven scoreless innings and allowed four hits with three walks and three strikeouts
Pirates at Reds, 12:35 p.m., FS Ohio, 700, 1410