CINCINNATI, Ohio — The Reds took the rubber match Sunday with another late inning rally. Jay Bruce hit a walk-off triple down the right-field line in the bottom of the ninth, which allowed Brandon Phillips to score from first, giving Cincinnati a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Sunday matinee at Great American Ball Park.
With one out in the inning and Bruce down two strikes, he came up with the clutch hit to put the hometown fans in a frenzy.
“I knew he threw really, really hard but he doesn’t throw me a lot of fastballs,” Bruce said. “Honestly I was telling myself to think small. I didn’t need to do a whole lot. You can’t get big there because he throws so hard. With two strikes there, I was just trying to make contact. He’s got really, really good stuff …
“I think he broke my bat, but anytime, that’s fine with me.”
The victory gives Cincinnati an early 5-1 record after the first week. While there are 156 more games to play, Reds manager Bryan Price believes his team has the makeup to put together several streaks that will resemble the current one.
“I think the guys are relaxed and having fun, and that sounds simple enough,” Price said. “I think when you go out there and everyone’s pulling for each other, there’s something really special about that. It’s easy to say were in the first week of the season and it’s going to be a long season, we know things aren’t always going to go as smoothly as the first week. However, if you can keep the right attitude with the right frame of mind, you can have more streaks like this and I think we have the right personnel in here to do that.”
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Eugenio Suarez tied the game with a 368-foot bomb to right field — his fourth of the season. The 24-year-old third baseman has had a solid start to the season, hitting .304 with nine RBIs and the aforementioned four homers.
“The thing that I’m admiring (about Suarez) is No. 1, he’ll drive the ball the other way and the other thing is the pitches he’s laying off,” Price said. “That’s how good the quality of his at bats are. He doesn’t take big free swings on pitches out of the zone. If you make a big pitch to him inside the zone there, he’s going to let it pass. He’s not going to force the action. I think that’s what happens when hitters are really feeling good, they’re allowing a good pitch to present itself to hit instead of going out there and chasing pitches to hit, and increase the size of their strike zone.”
While the Reds came away with the victory, Cincinnati had several early chances to create an early lead but failed to capitalize. The Reds left three runners on base in the first two innings, including potentially go-ahead runs standing 90 feet away on third.
In the opening frame, with the bases loaded and two outs, Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco hit a grounder to third baseman David Freese who stepped on the bag before firing the ball to first for the second out.
In the second inning, Jay Bruce led off with a single and was advanced to third by a double to right-center field by Adam Duvall. However, after initially receiving the green light by third base coach Billy Hatcher, Bruce advanced halfway down the line before retreating.
The confusion was costly for Duvall, who rounded second and was forced to retreat halfway down the baseline. Duvall was thrown out in the inning for the first out. With two outs in the inning and Bruce still camped out at third, Billy Hamilton hit a ground ball to short, which ended the Reds’ threat for the second consecutive inning.
Cincinnati also let a would be opportunity go by the waste side in the bottom of the fifth inning. Duvall led off with his second double of the contest. After reliever Dan Straily laid down a sacrifice bunt, Duvall stood on third with one away. However, a pop up to second by Billy Hamilton and a ground out by Zack Cozart, the inning ended with another goose egg on the score board.
“There were (chances) but you can look at it the other way, and say it was great pitching when guys were on base,” Price said.
While Pittsburgh’s lone run came on a second-inning homer by Chris Stewart — his first home run and at bat of the season — the Pirates had an opportunity to take the lead in the eighth inning but Josh Harrison was tagged out at home by Mesoraco to thwart the Pittsburgh rally.
Harrison began the inning with a single and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Jordy Mercer. With two outs in the inning and Harrison still sitting on second base, John Jaso hit a line drive single to left field. Duvall quickly retrieved the ball and fired it to Mesoraco who applied the tag on Harrison.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle quickly challenged the play on the basis of the home-plate collision rule, which states the catcher cannot block home plate. After a 2 1/2 minute delay, the umpires upheld the original out call.
“The thing they had to look at was certainly the out-safe but also where Devin started,” Price said. “That throw was so far out in left field, that the action of the ball allowed Devin to come into the base line to take it. He doesn’t have to give him the plate. He has to provide him a place to slide as the ball has left the hand of the position player. If that throw takes (the catcher) into the line, he has every right to go into the line and the base runner has every right to hit him. You can still run the catcher over if he’s in your way, you just can’t go out of your way to do it.”
“It’s a difference maker. You know we’re getting (Mark) Melancon (if the runs scores) and he was 50 of 52 last year in saves. It doesn’t mean we don’t win the game but it certainly narrows the chances.”
Reliever Ross Ohlendorf picked up the victory for Cincinnati, his second of the season.
Cincinnati will play it’s first road game of the season Monday as the Reds travel to Wrigley Field to play the Cubs in Chicago’s home opener. Brandon Finnegan is scheduled to make his second start of the season.
Major league debut — Tim Melville, the 26-year-old right hander, made his major league debut Sunday against the Pirates. Melville pitched four innings, allowing one run on five hits. He struck out five batters but allowed four walks. Melville exited after the fourth inning because he had thrown 92 pitches.
“It was a little cold out there and it’s all new settings,” Melville said. “But overall, just grateful to be here. It’s been a long journey for me. Overall, just so grateful to be a part of this team that’s so good. We’re winning and it’s fun to be a part of that.”
“That’s not how I normally pitch,” Melville said. “It was just associated with the nerves. You just tell yourself to keep moving on. That’s what I’m going to do after this start. I’m going to keep getting better.”
Let’s walk — The Reds pitching staff was in a generous mood Sunday, issuing six base on balls while allowing another would be scoring threat to reach first via hit by pitch.
“You don’t want to walk the tight rope every game with the base on balls,” Price said. “We’re getting so many new guys and young guys acclimated to the major leagues that the challenge is having these guys build their confidence and get back to pitching as they always have. We’ll transition into that. Right now with some of the guys, it’s nerves, it’s being hyped up, it’s trying to deal with adrenaline, trying to impress; it’ll get better.
“I’ve been impressed with two things. No. 1, the fact that they’ve come back and found a way to get the outs. And No. 2, the defense hasn’t lost interest … “
Quality starts — Going into Sunday, the Reds’ starters have put together four quality starts in their first five games. Melville was on pace for a quality start, only allowing one run, but a high pitch count — 92 pitches — cut his afternoon short of the six required innings to register a quality start.
Right-side tandem — First baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips have made 976 starts together, the most on the right side of the infield of any tandem in Reds history and the highest total by any active set of infielders.
Hot Start — The Reds are off to their first 5-1 start since 2011. Cincinnati hasn’t started 6-1 since the 1994 season when the team began that year with a 6-1-1 mark.
DeSclafani scratched — Reds starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani — who was originally slated to start Sunday’s contest against the Pirates — was scratched by management after dealing with an oblique injury, which landed the right hander on the disabled list on March 25.
“He’s mending exactly like he’s suppose too,” Price said. “We just felt like we’d be rushing it if we pitched him today. He wasn’t at 100 percent. He is 90 percent.
“He’s going to play catch on Monday. We have Tuesday off. He’s going to throw bullpen on Wednesday and I’ll have more information.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.