Reds trounce Pirates to bring NL Wild Card back into a deadlock

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The Reds brought the lumber today against Pirates starter Jeff Locke. Locke, an All-Star, entered today’s start with a 5.43 ERA since the break. It didn’t improve.

The Reds tagged Locke for five runs in the top of the first. After the Reds loaded the bases with one out, Jay Bruce laced a bases-clearing double to center. Todd Frazier followed up with a two-run home run to left field. Locke was pulled from the game after the first inning. Against Pirates reliever Jeanmar Gomez in the second, the Reds continued to pile on, scoring twice on Chris Heisey’s RBI double and a sacrifice fly by Brandon Phillips.

Things began to calm down in the middle innings, and the Pirates even scored three runs of their own on a Neil Walker solo home run in the third, and a Travis Snider solo homer and Justin Morneau sacrifice fly in the fifth against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo. But the Reds put the game out of reach, scoring three more runs in the eighth and another in the ninth to go up 11-3. Logan Ondrusek pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth to wrap up the win.

Billy Hamilton, making his second career Major League start, went 3-for-6 with two stolen bases, making him a perfect 12-for-12 in that department since making his debut on September 3.

With the victory, the two 89-67 teams move into a tie for the Wild Card. With the Nationals losing the first of two games against the Marlins today, their elimination number goes down to two, meaning both the Reds and Pirates could be guaranteed a spot in at least the NL Wild Card match as early as tomorrow.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.