On their way to hitting a new low, the Pittsburgh Pirates accomplished a remarkable feat - outdoing themselves.
A day after being no-hit for the first time in 41 years, the Pirates try to avoid completing a collapse unlike any in baseball history Saturday night against the Cincinnati Reds .
Pittsburgh (76-81) was 62-46 on Aug. 6, and at that point the talk wasn't about the seeming certainty of ending the streak of 19 straight losing seasons - a North American professional sports record - but of a potential trip to the postseason.
Instead, no one has been worse since that date than the 14-35 Pirates, who returned to PNC Park on Friday needing to win five of their final six games to avoid seeing their streak of futility hit 20.
Perhaps fittingly, their hopes of finishing with a winning record disappeared with a performance that summed up the last two months. Cincinnati's Homer Bailey threw the majors' seventh no-hitter of the season Friday in a 1-0 win, the first time Pittsburgh was held without a hit since being thwarted by Hall of Famer Bob Gibson on Aug. 14, 1971.
"It's great for Homer, it's great for the organization and it's just great for the team because it's another special moment in what has been a very special season," catcher Ryan Hanigan said.
Now, the Pirates must win out to avoid being the first team since major league baseball went to a 162-game season to go from at least 16 games over .500 after 108 - exactly two-thirds of the way through - to a sub-.500 finish.
Two clubs - the 1989 Expos and 1977 Cubs - finished 81-81 after starting 63-45.
"We wanted to stay in contention for the division - that got away," manager Clint Hurdle told the Pirates' official website prior to the series. "We wanted to stay in contention for the wild card - that got away. Now the last thing on the plate is a .500 season."
The Reds (95-62), meanwhile, have plenty left to accomplish. With Washington's loss in St. Louis on Friday, Cincinnati is tied for the best record in baseball in the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It'll try to hand the Pirates loss No. 82 by giving the ball to Mike Leake (8-9, 4.73 ERA), who held Pittsburgh to three runs over seven innings in a 5-3 home victory Sept. 11. He's 0-3 in five lifetime starts at PNC despite a 3.19 ERA.
Leake was skipped in Cincinnati's rotation after giving up four runs over six innings Sept. 19 at Chicago, and he's hardly assured of a place on the playoff roster. Johnny Cueto , Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo will take the first three spots in the rotation, and Bailey certainly seems to have done his part for the fourth.
"I really don't know yet. They haven't said anything," Leake told MLB.com on Tuesday. "I can make assumptions, but they wouldn't be 100 percent accurate.
"I know I haven't deserved a spot to be one of the four (starters), but I feel I can still help."
Leake has helped quite a bit more on the road. Since June 1, he's 4-2 with a 3.43 ERA in nine starts - seven quality - away from Cincinnati. He has a 5.40 ERA at home in that span.
Kyle McPherson (0-2, 3.54) will make his third and final start of the season for Pittsburgh, and he hopes this one lasts a bit longer. He's made it through just 4 1-3 innings in his first two, most recently giving up four runs, four hits and three walks in a 6-2 loss to the Mets on Monday.
McPherson surrendered a solo homer to Scott Rolen and one other hit in a two-inning relief appearance against the Reds on Sept. 11.
|September 19, 2012||Aroldis Chapman||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder fatigue|
|September 19, 2012||Ryan Ludwick||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin tightness|
|September 08, 2012||Zack Cozart||Day-to-Day||Strained left oblique|
|August 31, 2012||Kristopher Negron||15-Day DL||Torn right ACL - out for season|
|August 01, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|August 01, 2012||Wilson Valdez||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff neck|
|September 27, 2012||Andrew McCutchen||Day-to-Day||Left game - left knee pain|
|August 31, 2012||Jeff Karstens||Day-to-Day||Hip flexor|
|August 27, 2012||Neil Walker||Day-to-Day||Lower back stiffness|
|August 25, 2012||Chad Qualls||15-Day DL||Left toe sprain|
|August 25, 2012||Chad Qualls||15-Day DL||Left toe sprain|
|August 25, 2012||Jose Tabata||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin discomfort|
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Andrew McCutchen kept a 20th straight losing season by the Pittsburgh Pirates at bay for at least a few more hours.
The All-Star centerfielder hit a solo home run off Cincinnati reliever Jonathan Broxton with one out in the ninth inning to lift the Pirates over the Reds 2-1 Saturday night.
Two innings after a powerful drive to left-center died at the wall, McCutchen took a 2-2 fastball from Broxton and sent it into the seats in right-center for his 31st homer of the season.
"I just kept running until it went out," McCutchen said.
A day after getting no-hit by Cincinnati's Homer Bailey , the Pirates won with eight hits. McCutchen was greeted by a mob of teammates after hitting Pittsburgh's third game-ending homer of the season, though he deftly avoided the brunt of a Gatorade bath while doing a postgame on-field interview.
Joel Hanrahan (5-1) worked out of a two-on, two-out jam in the ninth, setting the stage for McCutchen. Pedro Alvarez had two hits for the Pirates, who won for just the seventh time this month.
"Wins have been hard to come by," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle . "We didn't let this one get away after we took the one-run lead and they came back and tied it in the eighth. We were able to answer back. It was a good team victory tonight."
Cincinnati, trying to keep pace with the Washington Nationals in the race for the National League's best record, again struggled to score runs.
The Reds wrapped up the NL Central earlier in the week but have now scored just five times in their last four games and now trail the Nationals by one game for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
"We want to make sure guys get their at-bats to try to get ready and get things rolling," said acting Cincinnati manager Chris Speier . "We still have some time. We'd sure like to see it turn around sooner than later."
A lone run on Friday was more than enough to preserve Bailey's gem, and a game-tying single in the eighth by Scott Rolen on Saturday appeared to the Reds life. The Pirates loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning off Cincinnati reliever Logan Ondrusek , but Starling Marte popped out harmlessly in foul territory.
Hanrahan came on in a rare non-save situation and worked around a couple of walks to get to the bottom of the ninth. Josh Harrison lined sharply to center to lead off the inning and McCutchen smacked a Broxton offering into the stands to help the Pirates improve to 77-81.
"That's the way it goes," Rolen said. "Hanrahan is out there. He's throwing the ball well. He's had a great year. There's no easy at bats when he's out there. We put something together and then they came back and got us there in the bottom."
Pittsburgh needs to win its final four games to avoid extending the longest losing season streak in North American professional sports history, and the Pirates' seventh walk-off win of the season improved their record to just 14-34 since Aug. 8.
Back then Pittsburgh was trying to track down the Reds for the division lead. The bottom fell out shortly thereafter and getting no-hit for the first time on Friday night provided an ugly exclamation point on a collapse that turned a once-promising season into one that would end without a winning record for the 20th straight time.
While the Reds focus on the playoffs, Pittsburgh is already working on next season.
Kyle McPherson , who is trying to get a jumpstart one of the open rotation spots in 2013, finally found some solid footing in his third big-league start. The 24-year-old failed to get out of the fifth inning in each of his previous two outings due to command issues that led to bloated pitch counts.
There were no such problems against the Reds. Cincinnati led off the first with a pair of sharply hit singles but couldn't score, and McPherson allowed just four hits over his six innings of work, striking five and walking just one.
"He's got to feel good about himself after tonight's performance," Hurdle said. "He went six innings through the Central Division champions lineup. He's got what you're looking for, you just have to sprinkle some experience on it."
Problem was, the Pirates couldn't get anything going off Mike Leake . Pittsburgh ended any chance of getting no-hit for a second straight night early when Josh Harrison singled with one out in the first, but otherwise Leake matched McPherson zero for zero as he tried to make a case for postseason playing time.
"I hope we stay in it for the whole time so that I can put some significant role into it," Leake said. "I've just got to hope I make it in the bullpen or hope we make it into the second round so I can play a role."
The Pirates finally took the lead in the seventh on a RBI-double by Alex Presley , but Jason Grilli gave it away an inning later when Rolen's single to left scored pinch runner Denis Phipps .
NOTES: The series concludes on Sunday. Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.83 ERA) starts for Cincinnati against Pittsburgh's Wandy Rodriguez (12-13, 3.79) ... The Pirates drew their 17th season sellout of the season on Saturday and topped 2 million in attendance for the fourth time in franchise history.