Johnny Cueto has a last name that’s easy to chant. Pirates fans picked up on that right away as they saw the Reds starter crumble before their eyes.
“Cueto! Cueto! Cueto!” they screamed.
That chant and the roar of the largest crowd ever at PNC Park will stick with all the Reds. Pittsburgh fans released 21 years of frustration by waving their Jolly Roger flags or holding up signs like the one that read simply, “We’re back.”
Worst of all for the Reds is the memory of what happened in the final six games of the 2013 season. They lost them all.
The first five robbed them of a chance to host the wild card game. The last one, a 6-2 defeat in Pittsburgh on Tuesday in the National League wild card game, left them staring at another long winter.
Reds manager Dusty Baker spoke to the media after the game and could hear the Pirates celebrating in their clubhouse as he spoke. The audio from that celebration had been piped in over a speaker in the next room.
Baker took the Reds to the postseason for the third time in four years, but he has yet to win a postseason series with Cincinnati. This one stung because it was over so fast, a 162-game season reduced to one game.
“It’s very difficult. It’s unbelievable actually,” Baker said. “Our club has been through a lot on and off the field. Our club stuck together. We realize we’ve now got some more work to do. We’ve got some improvements to make. It’s very difficult to come down to one game, especially the way we played.”
The franchise has now gone 18 years without winning a decisive game in the postseason. They managed to match last year’s stunning collapse in the division series against the Giants with the first six-game losing streak to end a season since 1991.
The Pirates reaffirmed all the doubts about this Reds team. Home runs by Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin in the second inning set the tone. Another homer by Martin in the seventh put the game away.
Cueto left the game in the fourth inning. The Reds had little choice but to start him. Mat Latos had a sore arm. Homer Bailey pitched Saturday.
Cueto was the man, and the Reds called him their ace, hoping he could pitch like it. Instead, he looked like a guy who was making only his third start since the all-star break. This time, an injury didn’t end his night. He came out allowing three earned runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings.
“I feel a little sad,” Cueto said. “It’s a sad situation because we lost the game. They were aggressive the whole time. I left two pitches high in the zone. They made the adjustment, and you see what happened.”
Pirates starter Francisco Liriano retired the first nine batters in order, seven by groundouts. The Reds rallied for one run in the fourth. A two-out single by Jay Bruce scored Shin-Soo Choo.
Todd Frazier came close to putting the Reds on top in that inning. With two runners on, he lifted a high fly ball to left that settled into the seats to the left of the foul pole. Then Frazier struck out.
Pittsburgh gave itself a comfortable cushion with two runs in the fourth. A double by Neil Walker scored Starling Marte. Brandon Phillips bobbled a potential double-play ball, allowing the second run to score.
The Reds’ scored their only other run in the eighth on a solo home run by Shin-Soo Choo. It might have been Choo’s last at-bat with the Reds. He’s a free agent after the season.
That the Reds offense struggled surprised no one. The team scored a total of 10 runs in its last six games. It scored more than three runs only once in its last nine games.
Liriano was a big reason the Reds struggled in this one. He gave up one earned run on four hits in seven innings.
“The guy pitched an excellent game,” Baker said. “It just seemed like the last week everybody pitched an excellent game against us. He has a lot of weapons he can get you out with.”
Liriano is the first Pirates left-hander to win a postseason game since 1979.
“He’s tough,” Bruce said. “He’s got great stuff. He pitched a very good game. We just couldn’t get anything going, could never get any real momentum going.”
The Pirates, making their first postseason appearance since 1992, advance to play the Cardinals in the division series on Thursday in St. Louis.