The Cincinnati Reds got a big swing from an unlikely source when Ramon Santiago hit a walk-off grand slam in the tenth inning to hand the Pirates a 10-6 defeat at Great American Ballpark on Saturday afternoon.
The loss had the Pirates (88-73) on the brink of settling for second place in the NL Central, but an Arizona victory on Saturday evening over the Cardinals (89-72) to keep Pittsburgh’s hopes for a tie in the division alive. As for Santiago, his grand slam was only his second homer of the season and it jumped his RBI total from 13 to 17 with one swing. The Reds (75-86) and Pirates traded the lead throughout the day to continue a season series that has six games featuring the winning run scored in the ninth or later.
The Reds jumped on Francisco Liriano early thanks to some fielding blunder by the Pirates. Liriano allowed a single in between two walks to load the bases in the first and then gave up an RBI single to Devin Mesoraco. Another run scored on the play when Starling Marte failed to field the ball cleanly in left. Chris Heisey then grounded out to score another run and give Cincinnati a quick 3-0 advantage. Marte got a run back when he led off the second with a double and then scored two batters later after back-to-back ground outs.
Alfredo Simon and Liriano cruised from there until the fifth inning when Jordy Mercer homered off Simon to start the inning. Liriano helped his own cause with a single that was followed by a Josh Harrison double, who is trying to capture the NL Batting Title. A walk to Andrew McCutchen loaded the bases for Neil Walker who drove in a pair to give the Pirates a 4-3 lead. Ryan Ludwick tied it right back in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single to score Todd Frazier.nti
J.J. Hoover and Jared Hughes each tossed scoreless sixth innings for their respective teams, but their relief in the seventh didn’t fare as well. Sam LeCure allowed a two-out RBI single to McCutchen who then scored on a triple by Walker for a 6-4 lead. John Holdzkom, who was pitching in an independent league earlier this season, was touched up for his first runs at the Big League level when Frazier took a 3-0 offering and hit just out of the reach of right fielder Gregory Polanco and into the front row of the Sun Moon Deck to tie the game at six.
Jumbo Diaz worked around a double by Mercer to hold the Pirates off the board and Aroldis Chapman did his part in the ninth to keep things tied. Justin Wilson and Tony Watson did the same for Pittsburgh and it was off to the tenth. Dylan Axelrod (2-1) took over for Chapman and retired the Buccos in order. Former Brewers closer John Axford (0-1) came on for the Pirates and walked the bases loaded before being pulled for Bobby LaFromboise with one out. LaFromboise got Brayan Pena to fly out, but Santiago made sure no one in a Pirates uniform was going to catch his home run that easily cleared the left field wall.
The Pirates will at the very least host the NL Wild Card game, but a win gives them an opportunity to at least tie St. Louis. Standing in their way will be Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.29 ERA) who tries to become the first 20-game winner for the Reds in over 25 years. Gerrit Cole (11-5, 3.78 ERA) will take the ball for Pittsburgh in the regular season finale. First pitch is set for 1:10 p.m., while Pittsburgh will have to wait until 4:10 p.m. before the Cardinals get under way.
Before the start of the game, the Reds announced that they would extend the contract of GM Walt Jocketty through the 2016 season.