A Jordy Mercer error on a routine grounder to shortstop opened the door for the Reds to score three runs in the ninth, and Joey Votto hit a go-ahead homer in the 10th as Cincinnati won in Pittsburgh 6-5 on Friday.
The result leaves the two teams with identical 88-66 records behind the soon-to-be 90-64 or 89-65 Cardinals in the NL Central.
The Pirates were up by three headed to the top of the ninth, but Mark Melancon couldn’t pitch around the Mercer error, which came with one on and two outs. Ryan Ludwick scored from second on the play and two more singles followed. The last, from Devin Mesoraco, went off third baseman Pedro Alvarez’s glove and bounced past Mercer at shortstop, allowing pinch-hitter Billy Hamilton to score the tying run from second.
Votto’s go-ahead homer off Kyle Farnsworth barely sliced over the low wall in left field, eluding Starling Marte.
It’s not in Pirates manager Clint Hurdle’s nature to use defensive replacements, but he might rethink that strategy in light of Mercer’s 14th error tonight. Clint Barmes, who shares time with Mercer, is still the Pirates’ best defensive shortstop. Mercer offers more offense, though pretty much all of his production comes against left-handers. Versus righties, the Pirates are likely better off with Barmes in there anyway.
Mercer, who was 2-for-3 with an RBI in the contest, ended up being removed from the game anyway, as Travis Snider was called on to pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the ninth.
The loss overshadowed a fine performance from Francisco Liriano, who allowed two runs over eight innings and picked up his 1,000th career strikeout.
Bob Klapisch of The New York Times reports that free agent starter Gerrit Cole has a seven-year, $245 million contract offer on the table from the Yankees. As Klapisch also notes, the deal would set a record for total value and average annual value for a pitcher, besting Zack Greinke‘s $34.4 million AAV and David Price‘s $217 million total.
While it is possible that Cole signs before the end of the Winter Meetings on Thursday, clients of Scott Boras have tended to sign later in the offseason, so this may be a protracted process with today’s report as a jumping-off point. Both the Yankees’ and Angels’ front offices have received clearance from ownership to break the bank to sign Cole.
Cole, 29, could not have timed having a career year any better. During the regular season, he led all of baseball with 326 strikeouts and led the American League with a 2.50 ERA while also posting a 20-5 record and walking only 48 batters across 212 1/3 innings. He performed brilliantly in the playoffs as well, holding the opposition to seven runs on 21 hits and 11 walks with 47 strikeouts over 36 2/3 innings of work as the Astros narrowly missed out on winning another championship.
Cole is entering his age-29 season, so a deal of at least seven years would take him well into his mid-30’s. Teams, especially lately, have been hesitant to commit to pitchers, but as the Nationals showed with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, sometimes it leads to a championship.
For what it’s worth, Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports says the Yankees haven’t made a formal offer to Cole yet, though the club plans to make one this week. During this time of year, both sides — front office personnel and player agents — leak details to the press to help establish leverage. What we can generally take from this is that the Yankees are hot for Cole and he’s going to get a record-setting contract from some team, even if it’s not the Yankees.