The Reds seemingly had a win in the bag, leading the Pirates 9-0. But what started out as an easy win turned into a crushing, 13-12 loss. Photo Credit: Albert Cesare/The Enquirer/ USA TODAY NETWORK Cincinnati Reds center fielder TJ Friedl (29) looks on in the first inning of the MLB baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023.

Saturday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates started out looking like a dream for the Cincinnati Reds and their fans. It ended looking like a dream of a completely different kind, a complete nightmare.

While the Reds are in a precarious position, they are still alive in the race for a playoff spot. Cincinnati will need help over the season’s final days to reach the playoffs but most importantly, the Reds need to win. So, when Cincinnati jumped out to a 9-0 lead after three innings, it appeared as though the Reds would at least hold up their end of the bargain. Appearances can be deceiving.

The Pirates chipped away at the deficit, scoring once in the fourth inning and five times in the sixth, trimming the deficit to 9-6. Then, after Pittsburgh then loaded the bases with nobody out in the seventh inning, Pirates first baseman Alfonso Rivas smacked a line drive into the right field corner. Jack Suwinski and Jared Triolo scored on the play and when Cincinnati’s Stuart Fairchild couldn’t stop the ball, Endy Rodríguez sprinted home with the tying run.

As unmistakable (and understandable) as the frustration from the fans at the Great American Ballpark was then, it only got worse.

Suwinski and Rivas both delivered RBI hits in the top of the eighth inning to put the Pirates ahead 11-9. Ji-hwan Bae then drove in two more runs with a double to give Pittsburgh a 13-9 lead.

If the Pirates had gone on to win 13-9, it would have been a frustrating, inexcusable loss for the Reds. Somehow, though, it only got worse.

Cincinnati scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, cutting the deficit to 13-11. Then, Joey Votto singled and TJ Friedl doubled to start the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the Reds the tying run on second base with nobody out. Jake Fraley made an out, but a highly productive one, as his groundout scored Votto and moved Friedl over to third. That brought Elly De La Cruz to the plate, needing only a fly ball to the outfield to tie the game. It never happened.

De La Cruz got into a fierce battle against Pittsburgh closer, Carmen Mlodzinski, working a 3-2 count and then fouling four pitches off. But on the 11th pitch of the at-bat, De La Cruz swung through an inside sweeper from Mlodzinski, striking out and leaving it up to Jonathan India. India fell behind 1-2, then on the fourth pitch of the at-bat, hit a flyball to center field. Suwinski made the easy putout, giving the Pirates a 13-12 win.

There are two sides to every game like this. The Pirates, who are effectively out of the playoff race but taking their role as spoilers to heart, were understandably elated.

But for the Reds, this was a brutal loss. And there was no sugarcoating it.

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