The black clouds lingering over Great American Ball Park were ominous when Saturday afternoon’s game began. And it seemed even more ominous for the Cincinnati Reds when the Pittsburgh Pirates put two runners on with one out in the top of the first inning.
Reds starter Mat Latos worked out of that problem with a strikeout and a fly ball and then the skies opened and the wind whipped.
A weather delay of one hour and 17 minutes followed, and the wait was worth it for the Reds.
When play resumed, the first four Reds reached base against Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett and all four scored. And the Reds used those four runs to score a 5-4 victory.
During the delay, Latos pitched two simulated innings in the under-the-stands batting cages, using up to 40 pitches. So when he reached 99 after five innings, that was enough.
And it was enough for him to win his ninth game.
“I’m not too fond of having to wait out a delay, something I’ve never had to do,” said Latos. “First time for everything. I threw almost 40 extra pitches, so I pretty much threw about 140 pitches.”
Not only did the Reds have to escape the rain, but they had to watch closer Aroldis Chapman perform The Great Escape in the ninth.
Three of the four runs in the first were unearned, but the Reds care not how they arrived. The first one scored when second baseman Jordy Mercer booted Joey Votto’s ground ball and a run scored — Votto’s 500th career RBI.
Brandon Phillips singled for the second run, his 78th RBI to give him the National League lead. Zack Cozart hit a sacrifice fly for the third run and the fourth scored on Devin Mesoraco’s double.
The Pirates then pecked away against Latos — a home run by Garrett Jones in the third, another run in the third on a strikeout-wild pitch and an error by Cozart at shortstop.
The Pirates cut the lead to 4-3 in the fourth on Andrew McCutchen’s home run and Latos was done after five innings and 99 pitches.
The Pirates lost the series opener Friday, 5-3, and scored all three runs on solo home runs. Two of Saturday’s four runs were on bases-empty homers. That makes five solo home runs and seven runs scored by Pittsburgh in the two games.
The Reds left two on in the fifth without scoring and had the bases loaded with two outs in the sixth when Burnett walked Votto (RBI No. 501).
That made it 5-3 and brought up Phillips, 9-for-11 this year with the bases loaded. Relief pitcher Jeanmar Gomez struck him out on three pitches. Now he’s 9-for-12.
The Pirates crept back within one run in the eighth against Alfredo Simon. He gave up a two-out single to Mercer. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle sent up left-handed pinch-hitter Travis Snider. Reds manager Dusty Baker had left-hander Manny Parra warmed up in the bullpen.
But Baker stuck with right-hander Simon and Snider drilled a run-scoring double on one hop off the left-field wall.
Hurdle sent up another pinch-hitter, Gaby Sanchez, and Simon thought he had him struck out on 2-and-2, but first base umpire James Hoye ruled Sanchez checked his swing. Simon walked him on the 3-and-2.
Simon then hit Starling Marte in the back with a pitch and the bases were loaded — bringing Baker to the mound to signal for Logan Ondrusek to face Jose Tabata.
After falling behind 2-and-1, Ondrusek coaxed an inning-ending ground ball to second out of Tabata to preserve the 5-4 lead.
As it turned out, a trip on the basepaths — on them, not around them — by McCutchen in the seventh was a mammoth break for the Reds.
With one out, McCutchen drove one to right-center, an easy triple for him. But as he headed for third, near shortstop, his feet gave out from under him and he fell. He was caught in a rundown.
Then came The Great Escape.
Using his speed again in the ninth, McCutchen hit a routine grounder to third. A slight hesitation by Hannahan to enable Votto to cover first was deadly. McCutchen beat the throw for an infield hit, his fourth hit.
Chapman tried to pick him off first and threw past Votto for an error and McCutchen, the tying run, sprinted to second.
Pedro Alvarez grounded to Cozart, and he booted it for an error, sending McCutchen to third and planting Alvarez on first with no outs.
Russell Martin popped to Phillips, pinch-hitter Michael McKenry struck out and so did Mercer, on a 102-mph fastball that Mercer couldn’t hit even if he wore a flame-retardant suit.
“When you have an electric fastball you can strike yourself out of trouble,” said Baker. “That’s what I was hoping for because we didn’t need a fly ball or a passed ball. There aren’t many guys who can do that. He doesn’t depend on defense, he didn’t depend on anybody other than himself in that situation.
“We made three errors today,” Baker added, “which is uncharacteristic of our team — especially (shortstop) Zack Cozart (two errors) because he usually doesn’t make any.”