Sunday, September 28, 2014

Game of the Day (9/27/14)

Reds 10, Pirates 6 (10). Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano was brilliant in half a season in 2006, then got injured and was up-and-down (largely down) for the next several years before joining the Pirates last season and pitching quite well. Cincinnati's Alfredo Simon is 33 years old, and is finishing off his first complete season in a major league starting rotation.

Two years ago, this pitching matchup would have been a throw-away game. Now, it's a September faceoff with pennant race implications.

Simon hit Josh Harrison with a pitch in the top of the first and saw him steal second, but retired the next three hitters to leave him on. In the bottom of the first, Kristopher Negron led off with a walk, Brandon Phillips singled him to third, and Todd Frazier walked to load the bases. Devin Mesoraco then hit a two-run single, and Chris Heisey added an RBI forceout before Liriano ended the inning.

Starling Marte put the Pirates on the board, leading off the second with a double and coming the rest of the way around via a pair of groundouts. Liriano worked around a Negron single in the second and walks to Mesoraco and Ryan Ludwick in the third. Simon was perfect in the top of the third, then walked Andrew McCutchen to open the fourth but left him on. Negron doubled in the bottom of the fourth and did not advance past second.

Pittsburgh resumed the scoring in the top of the fifth when Jordy Mercer led off with a homer. One out later, Liriano singled and Harrison doubled him to third. McCutchen drew a two-out walk to load the bases, and Neil Walker singled in two runs to put the Pirates in front 4-3. Cincinnati replied in the bottom of the inning, as Frazier walked, moved to second on a groundout, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on Ludwick's single to even the game at 4.

The starters both came out at the end of the fifth, and JJ Hoover and Jared Hughes both worked scoreless sixth innings. Sam LeCure relieved in the seventh and retired the first two Pirates he faced. He then hit Travis Snider with a pitch. Pinch runner Gregory Polanco stole second, and McCutchen singled him home with the go-ahead run; Walker followed with a triple that plated McCutchen for a 6-4 lead.

That advantage was short-lived. Phillips singled against John Holdzkom with one out in the home seventh, and Frazier followed with a game-tying two-run homer. Jumbo Diaz worked around a Mercer single in the top of the eighth, and Justin Wilson was perfect in the bottom of the inning. Aroldis Chapman and Tony Watson exchanged flawless ninths (striking out two batters each) to send the game to extras.

Dylan Axelrod set the Pirates down in order in the tenth; John Axford fared rather worse in the bottom of the inning. Frazier drew a leadoff walk, and with one out, Chris Heisey singled and Ludwick walked to load the bases. Bobby LaFromboise relieved Axford and retired Brayan Pena, bringing Ramon Santiago to the plate. Santiago turned on a 1-0 pitch and whacked it into the left field bleachers for a walkoff grand slam.

Ramon Santiago made his major league debut in 2002. In the 13 years since then, he has exceeded 300 plate appearances only twice, with a career high of 507 in his second year - for the 119-loss 2003 Tigers. His career slugging percentage is .330, and he has hit 30 home runs in his career, about one every 80 at bats. He had one previous walkoff home run, and no grand slams.

Naturally, he effectively derailed Pittsburgh's hopes of a division title with a walkoff grand slam in the second-to-last game of the season, because baseball thought we all needed another lesson in its unpredictability.

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