For the second time in three games, the Pirates have not converted a stellar pitching performance into a victory. Time is running short enough with eight games remaining in the season; squandering late leads makes the clock tick faster.
Mark Melancon blew his second consecutive save in a 6-5 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, who orchestrated a three-run ninth inning Friday night with a two-out rally, at PNC Park.
The defeat dropped the Pirates, who have lost four of their past five, into a tie with the Reds for second place in the National League Central Division. Though the Washington Nationals are surging toward the second wild card spot after winning eight of their past 10 games, they are five games back. The Pirates and Reds, each 88-66, are currently fighting for home-field advantage in the one-game wild card.
"Cannot be losing games like that," Pirates starter Francisco Liriano said. "But stuff like that is going to happen in a game. Have to put it behind, come ready to play tomorrow and put it behind."
Joey Votto lined an opposite-field home run just over the fence near the left-field foul pole off Kyle Farnsworth in the 10th inning to break a 5-5 tie.
"I didn't think that ball was going to go over," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "But Hank Aaron said it's not how far, it's how many. That ball went in the front row, but it counts just as much as if it was a tape-measure shot."
The problems, though, began in the ninth, when Melancon relieved Liriano with a 5-2 lead.
Ryan Ludwick singled with one out. After another out, Jordy Mercer threw the ball away on Todd Frazier's ground ball, allowing one run to score and extending the inning.
"Obviously I make a good throw right there, the game's over," Mercer said. "All that other stuff that happened wouldn't ever have happened."
Zack Cozart singled, putting runners on the corners. Speed specialist Billy Hamilton pinch-ran for Cozart and immediately stole his way into scoring position. On a nine-pitch at-bat, Devin Mesoraco grounded a ball to the left side of the infield that Pedro Alvarez could not snare, scoring two runs and tying the score at 5-5.
"He put a good at-bat together," Melancon said. "The pitches that I threw were quality. He just put it in the right spot."
Melancon also blew a save Wednesday after a great start from Charlie Morton.
Mercer credited the clubhouse with supporting him after the error.
"Jordy makes that play 99 out of 100 times," Melancon said. "That doesn't kill us. We still have an opportunity to win after that."
Liriano allowed two runs in eight innings and struck out seven. "Lights out," manager Clint Hurdle called it. Liriano's skill set matched nicely with the Reds lineup, which consistently features left-handers Shin-Soo Choo, Votto and Jay Bruce in the first, third and fifth spots. This season, Liriano has held left-handed batters to a .319 on-base plus slugging percentage -- a .172 on-base percentage and a .147 slugging percentage. Bruce, a slugger with 30 home runs who was hitless in his first two at-bats, tried to bunt for a base hit to start the seventh.
After eight, Liriano told pitching coach Ray Searage he was done.
"I think I had enough," Liriano said. "I just felt out of gas, was feeling a little tired, too. Just tough [Friday night]. Things happen in the game. Have to put it behind and come here to play tomorrow."
The Pirates had a 2-1 lead before Reds starter Mat Latos recorded an out, courtesy of consecutive home runs by Jose Tabata and Neil Walker.
Tabata went 2 for 4 with two RBIs and is 9 for 22 with a double, triple and two home runs in his past seven games.
"We played a great game. Everybody played a great game," Mercer said. "To have it happen like that, it's just ... a bad throw."
Being that it was a Reds-Pirates game, a hit batter caused an issue. Liriano threw high and tight to Choo twice, but did not hit him either time. Reds reliever Sam LeCure hit Andrew McCutchen in the upper arm in the eighth, prompting home-plate umpire Mark Carlson to warn both dugouts.
Carlson eventually ejected Hurdle after an extensive argument.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 21, 2013 2:45 AM