On their way to hitting a new low, the Pittsburgh Pirates accomplished a remarkable feat - outdoing themselves.
A day after being no-hit for the first time in 41 years, the Pirates try to avoid completing a collapse unlike any in baseball history Saturday night against the Cincinnati Reds.
Pittsburgh (76-81) was 62-46 on Aug. 6, and at that point the talk wasn’t about the seeming certainty of ending the streak of 19 straight losing seasons - a North American professional sports record - but of a potential trip to the postseason.
Instead, no one has been worse since that date than the 14-35 Pirates, who returned to PNC Park on Friday needing to win five of their final six games to avoid seeing their streak of futility hit 20.
Perhaps fittingly, their hopes of finishing with a winning record disappeared with a performance that summed up the last two months. Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey threw the majors’ seventh no-hitter of the season Friday in a 1-0 win, the first time Pittsburgh was held without a hit since being thwarted by Hall of Famer Bob Gibson on Aug. 14, 1971.
“It’s great for Homer, it’s great for the organization and it’s just great for the team because it’s another special moment in what has been a very special season,” catcher Ryan Hanigan said.
Now, the Pirates must win out to avoid being the first team since major league baseball went to a 162-game season to go from at least 16 games over .500 after 108 - exactly two-thirds of the way through - to a sub-.500 finish.
Two clubs - the 1989 Expos and 1977 Cubs - finished 81-81 after starting 63-45.
“We wanted to stay in contention for the division - that got away,” manager Clint Hurdle told the Pirates’ official website prior to the series. “We wanted to stay in contention for the wild card - that got away. Now the last thing on the plate is a .500 season.”
The Reds (95-62), meanwhile, have plenty left to accomplish. With Washington’s loss in St. Louis on Friday, Cincinnati is tied for the best record in baseball in the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It’ll try to hand the Pirates loss No. 82 by giving the ball to Mike Leake (8-9, 4.73 ERA), who held Pittsburgh to three runs over seven innings in a 5-3 home victory Sept. 11. He’s 0-3 in five lifetime starts at PNC despite a 3.19 ERA.
Leake was skipped in Cincinnati’s rotation after giving up four runs over six innings Sept. 19 at Chicago, and he’s hardly assured of a place on the playoff roster. Johnny Cueto Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo will take the first three spots in the rotation, and Bailey certainly seems to have done his part for the fourth.
“I really don’t know yet. They haven’t said anything,” Leake told MLB.com on Tuesday. “I can make assumptions, but they wouldn’t be 100 percent accurate.
“I know I haven’t deserved a spot to be one of the four (starters), but I feel I can still help.”
Leake has helped quite a bit more on the road. Since June 1, he’s 4-2 with a 3.43 ERA in nine starts - seven quality - away from Cincinnati. He has a 5.40 ERA at home in that span.
Kyle McPherson (0-2, 3.54) will make his third and final start of the season for Pittsburgh, and he hopes this one lasts a bit longer. He’s made it through just 4 1-3 innings in his first two, most recently giving up four runs, four hits and three walks in a 6-2 loss to the Mets on Monday.
McPherson surrendered a solo homer to Scott Rolen and one other hit in a two-inning relief appearance against the Reds on Sept. 11.