Many will blame suddenly human closer Mark Melancon for this hurtful defeat. The Pirates gave him a three-run lead against the Cincinnati Reds in the ninth inning Friday night and, for the second time in his past two games, he blew the save. The Reds scored three times off him and went on to win, 6-5, in 10 innings on Joey Votto's home run to take the first game of the most important series in PNC Park history.
Many more will blame shortstop Jordy Mercer, as they should. He had a chance to end things in the ninth but threw the ball into the stands after a routine groundball. The Reds made him pay, made Melancon pay, made all of the Pirates pay an enormous price by scoring three unearned runs and going on to win a game they had absolutely no business winning.
A few others might even blame reliever Kyle Farnsworth. He gave up the winning home run to Votto, a drive just inside the left-field foul pole. Those in the crowd of 37,940 who weren't ill after watching that ninth inning were completely sickened by that point.
I'm going to go in a little different direction this morning.
I'm going to put the blame on Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. Or at least his coaching staff.
Why wasn't Clint Barmes in the game at shortstop in the ninth with that three-run lead?
"It's only because Jordy made the error that we're asking these questions," Hurdle said.
It's OK to start Mercer with the Pirates struggling so often to score runs. He's a much better hitter than Barmes. He had two more singles Friday night, drove in a run and scored a run.
But Barmes is a much better defensive player. It's not even close, actually. Don't you have to get him in a game late with a three-run lead? Certainly, he would have made that play in the ninth inning to end the game.
Hurdle didn't want to go there.
"Once Jordy established himself, he finished every game that he started."
Hurdle was ejected in the eighth inning by home plate umpire Mark Carlson after Pirates star Andrew McCutchen was hit by yet again by a Red pitcher with the Pirates leading, 5-2. Hurdle turned the lineup card over to bench coach Jeff Banister and said he wasn't in contact with him afterward.
"There's nothing I would have done anything differently tonight than what we did," Hurdle said.
It still was wrong leaving Mercer in and Barmes out.
This loss will be difficult for Hurdle and his players to -- how does he always say it? -- "shower off." It left the Pirates tied with the Reds for second place in the National League Central Division. They should have a two-game lead over them.
The pitch that hit McCutchen also was troubling. That's four times it has happened this season against Reds pitching and that doesn't count the high, hard one McCutchen took in the back of the shoulder from Reds closer Aroldis Chapman late last season. This time, the pitch was thrown by reliever Sam LeCure and caught McCutchen flush in the left arm.
Carlson promptly warned both benches, then had to deal with an irate Hurdle. Carlson listened for a while, then ejected Hurdle.
"I don't understand why, if [Carlson] thought [LeCure] was intentionally trying to hit him ... he should have thrown him out of the game," Hurdle said.
"Let us play the game."
Hurdle tried to be philosophical.
"Who said it was going to be easy?"
But you couldn't shake the feeling that the Reds had pulled one over on the Pirates again.
By the time the Reds ended up with the win, that feeling was suffocating.
After being tossed, Hurdle watched the rest of the game from the clubhouse. If club employees were smart, they gave him his space. They stayed miles away from him.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published September 21, 2013 4:30 AM