Thursday, April 06, 2006

Reds Notch Two Straight, Knock Off Pirates in Series Opener

My synopsis of this game can be summarized in a few words: offense overcomes offense. The Reds had to come through with another gut-wrencher win in this one, winning for the second straight day, but this time the opponent was different. Unlike the day before, this game was tied late until the Reds managed a 6-5 win over the Pirates.

Starter Brandon Claussen delivered a quality performance, if not stellar, by pitching five innings, allowing only three runs on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts. He did show a bit of erratic control by plunking three batters in that span. His major mistake came in the fourth inning, by allowing a three-run homer to former Red Joe Randa with two on and one out. Claussen had allowed only one hit in the previous three innings of work and was seemingly on cruise control until that fourth inning. The Reds' offense gave enough support of Claussen to put him in line for the win after Edwin Encarnacion pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the fifth with two outs and drove in Scott Hatteberg from second base with a single to center. The score was 4-3 at that point through five innings.

The Reds added an insurance run in the bottom of the next inning, as Reds' slugger Adam Dunn crushed a blast to deep center field with two outs to bring the score to 5-3. The Reds' bullpen seemed to have things under control with scoreless innings by Mike Burns and Rick White in the sixth and seventh innings. Unfortunately, White wasn't so lucky in the eighth inning. After getting the first two batters out with routine ground outs to third, Jose Castillo reached on a single, and the next batter, Ryan Doumit, brought them both home with a game-tying, two-run home run to knot the score at 5-5.

The bottom of the eighth provided the greatest drama in a controversial call on an Adam Dunn single that almost wasn't. With two outs and two runners on, Dunn hit a sinking liner to center that Pirates' centerfielder Chris Duffy caught on a hop while diving, but the second base umpire singled the out, meaning the inning was over. Manager Jerry Narron came out to argue the call as the umpires then huddled but quickly retreated to the dugout as the umpires corrected the errant call. Pirates' manager Jim Tracy argued the overrule to no avail and was ejected for his arguing, but even he would later admit the changed call was the right one. With Dunn's single being credited, Chris Denorfia scored from second on the play, and the Reds retook the lead at 6-5.

The ninth inning was marked by another quality closing effort by David Weathers, shutting the Pirates down in order to mark his second save in as many days. Reliever Rick White, who had blown the lead one inning earlier, was credited with the win (1-0), and reliever Mike Gonzalez (0-1) took the loss after his giving up Dunn's run-scoring single in the eighth.

The series with the Pirates continues on Friday night as Pittsburgh's Paul Maholm opposes Cincinnati's Eric Milton. Maholm was 3-1 in limited work in 2005 (his first year in the big leagues) with a 2.18 ERA in only 41 1/3 innings of work. Milton had a dreadful 2005 campaign (8-15, with a balloonish 6.47 ERA), but he hopes that 2006 will bring a return to his numbers of the past (like his 14-6 record in 2004 with the Phillies or 15-7 record in 2001 with the Twins). GABP is problematic to a home run pitcher like Milton has been, so keep your fingers crossed (as a Reds fan) that Milton can keep the ball down on Friday night.

The weekend will conclude the series with two afternoon games on Saturday (Oliver Perez versus Aaron Harang, two opening day starters return) and Sunday (Victor Santos versus Dave Williams, making his first Reds' start). The Reds are now at 2-1 on the season, while the Pirates fall to 0-4 for only the sixth time in their long history.

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