The Pirates' only starting pitcher to make the All-Star Game this season was booed Sunday before the first inning ended.
And that was just the start of an ugly afternoon for the Pirates.
Jeff Locke let the Reds grab a commanding lead early and Cincinnati cruised to beat the Pirates, 11-3, in the final regular-season game at PNC Park this season. And now, any hopes of playing a postseason game in the Pirates' ballpark are in serious jeopardy.
The Pirates (89-67) and Reds (89-67) are tied for second in the National League Central Division and are tied for the right to play host to a one-game wild-card with six games remaining, including three against each other this weekend in Cincinnati.
The Reds took two of three games from the Pirates in a series in which MVP contender Andrew McCutchen went hitless.
Neil Walker said the team still has designs on the NL Central title but will continue to do what they need to do to make the playoffs.
"[Sunday] we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole early and they never let up, kept their foot on the gas pedal," Walker said. "This is the way baseball goes sometimes, especially with the two-out hits and the two-out RBIs they had."
Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 8:05 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
RHP Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.35 ERA) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.42).
- Key matchup:
Morton vs. Brian Bogusevic, who is 5 for 8 with a home run and two RBIs in his career against Morton.
- Hidden stat:
In 12 starts since the All-Star break, Samardzija has a 4.98 ERA, and opponents have a .427 slugging percentage against him.
Locke was yanked from the game after his five-run first inning, in which he allowed a two-run homer, a three-run double and issued two walks.
"I'm not going to say [I've] completely [fallen] apart because I don't feel like I have," Locke said. "I know that the results are not the same, but I don't mentally feel like I'm under construction, and physically I don't feel like I'm dragging. What it is is completely frustrating."
He earned an All-Star appearance after a stellar first half, when he was 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA. But he is 2-5 in the second half with a 6.12 ERA, though none of his starts were as ugly as his outing Sunday.
What makes the slide even more frustrating for Locke is the left-hander said he feels -- physically and mentally -- like the same pitcher who dominated hitters early this season.
"It's like I'm looking for something in the dark," Locke said. "You don't know what it is you're looking for or where it is, but you know it's in there. I have just as much fire in me as I have all season."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates coaching staff and front office will start talking today about how -- if at all -- Locke will be used for the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs.
After a quick out, Locke gave up a single to Chris Heisey and issued walks to Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips to load the bases for Jay Bruce, who smacked a ball into the left-center field gap to give the Reds a 3-0 lead.
Todd Frazier followed with his second home run of the series, a towering shot that cleared the deepest part of the ballpark to make it 5-0.
"Everything happened pretty fast," Locke said. "I think as the starting pitcher, you always look to avoid the big inning as much as you always can. Unfortunately, the big inning came in the first inning."
The Pirates sent Jeanmar Gomez to the mound in the second to stop the bleeding, but the Reds continued to inflict damage.
Josh Hamilton reached base on a bunt single, stole second and scored when Heisey doubled to left-center field. Heisey scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly from Phillips to deep right-center field to put the Reds up, 7-0.
Before the game, Hurdle said one of his favorite PNC Park memories from this season was when the Pirates recovered from an ugly start -- and a five-run deficit -- to beat the Reds in April.
But there was no such magic Sunday.
The Pirates scored three runs off Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo, including two solo home runs, but the offense missed a couple of chances to get a big hit with runners on base. Arroyo allowed three earned runs on five hits in five innings, striking out three and walking two to improve to 14-11 this season.
The Pirates failed to piece together any offense against the Reds bullpen, which pitched four scoreless, hitless innings.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published September 22, 2013 6:15 PM