The Pittsburgh Pirates saw their backup catcher get ejected, their starting catcher exit with an injury and were forced to break glass on their emergency catcher and ended up losing to the worst team in baseball.
Then the Pirates made history.
A dizzying doubleheader at Cincinnati ended in a split Saturday, when the Reds used a seven-run eighth inning for a 9-2 Game 1 win to end a nine-game losing streak and the Pirates hit three home runs in the first inning for the first time in franchise history in an 8-5 win in Game 2.
The Reds (4-23) had lost 20 of their past 21 games, interrupted only by a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on April 24. The Pirates (11-15) had lost 15 of their past 16 games at Great American Ball Park.
A bigger loss for the Pirates was having to place starting catcher Roberto Perez on the 10-day injured list after he experienced left hamstring discomfort while rounding second base in the eighth inning of Game 1. The Pirates selected the contract of catcher Michael Perez from Triple -A Indianapolis and designated lefty reliever Sam Howard for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
What made it worse is the injury occurred two innings after backup catcher Andrew Knapp was ejected from the visiting dugout by home plate umpire Will Little for criticizing a call.
That forced the Pirates to turn to Josh VanMeter, who started the game at second base.
“It sucks that we lost and it unfolded that way, but it’s just part of the game,” said VanMeter, who hadn’t caught in a game since he was 14. “We needed somebody to step up, and I said I ‘ d do it. ”
The Pirates appeared poised to take control of the game in the eighth, as Perez hit a leadoff single and was rounding second base on Ben Gamel’s single when his leg buckled and he collapsed on the infield dirt. Roberto Perez was helped off the field by trainers Rafael Freitas and Tony Leo and limped through the dugout.
It robbed the Pirates of the momentum as Bryan Reynolds drew a walk to load the bases with no outs but Reds reliever Lucas Sims struck out Ke’Bryan Hayes, Daniel Vogelbach and Michael Chavis to escape unscathed.
“We need to have better at-bats in that situation,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton. “We had a chance to break the game open, and we did not do that.”
The Reds responded by taking advantage of VanMeter’s inexperience behind the plate, scoring seven runs in the bottom of the eighth. Wil Crowe hit leadoff batter Brandon Drury and walked Tommy Pham and Mike Moustakas to load the bases with no outs. Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson hit a fly ball to right field that bounced past a diving Gamel for a double, scoring Drury and Pham for a 4-2 Reds lead.
“I give him a ton of credit. “It’s not an easy thing to do, and Wil Crowe’s not an easy guy to catch because his stuff is really good,” Shelton said of VanMeter. “It’s human nature. You have a guy back there who hasn’t caught since he was a teenager, and I think Wil tried to be perfect. When you try to be perfect, it gets you behind. As good as he’s been all year for us, it’s probably the thing that was the most unfortunate thing. ”
Knapp accepted blame for his role in the loss.
“Can’t happen. I’m the only backup catcher here, so the responsibility falls on me to keep a cool head. It was just a stupid mistake, ”Knapp said. “It was a horrible feeling. You feel terrible. It shouldn’t happen. I feel bad for the guys who came into the game to pitch, I feel bad for Josh, I feel bad for the whole team. It falls on me to be smarter than that. There’s really no excuse. ”
The Pirates got off to a hot start in the first inning of Game 2, when Reynolds hit a solo homer and Hayes doubled off Reds opener Dauri Noreta. Reds manager David Bell replaced Noreta with Phillip Diehl, who gave up back-to-back homers to Yoshi Tsutsugo and Diego Castillo that gave the Pirates a 4-0 lead. Playing at Cincinnati’s bandbox helped, as none of the homers traveled farther than 387 feet.
“It’s great,” Castillo said. “I did not even know about that. It feels amazing. It’s something special. ”
Pirates starter Mitch Keller hit the first batter he faced, Tyler Naquin, then gave up an RBI double to Drury and a run-scoring single to Moustakas that cut the lead to 4-2.
Right fielder Jack Suwinski reached over the wall to rob Colin Moran of a potential game-tying two-run homer.
The Pirates added three more runs in the fourth on an RBI double by Cole Tucker and a 414-foot, two-run homer by Gamel for a 7-2 lead, but the Reds cut it to 7-5 on Drury’s three-run shot to right off Keller, who gave up five runs on six hits and three walks in 41⁄3 innings.
In the seventh, Suwinski doubled down the left-field line to score Vogelbach for an 8-5 lead. The Pirates got 42⁄3 scoreless innings of relief from Heath Hembree (2-0), Max Kranick, Chris Stratton and David Bednar, who struck out the side in the ninth to finish off the Reds for his fourth save.
“One thing we found out about this group is they do bounce back,” Shelton said. “They do not let things linger. It was nice to come back and get a win. ”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .