Pirates 8, Reds 7

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—Down by three runs in the ninth, with Pittsburgh’s best reliever on the mound, the Cincinnati Reds were very confident it was their game to win.

Only for a change, baseball’s best comeback team couldn’t find a way to finish off a rally.

Matt Stairs hit two-run homers off Ryan Dempster in consecutive at-bats and the Pirates held off Cincinnati’s third comeback attempt in three nights, avoiding another near-collapse by closer Mike Williams to win 8-7 Thursday night.

Stairs put the Pirates in front 4-2 with a two-run drive in the third inning, then added a second two-run shot in the fifth—his fifth homer in 16 at-bats over five games—as the Pirates made it 8-2.

A night after the Reds rallied to win 4-3 against Williams despite being down to their last strike with no one on base, they almost did it again. The Reds lead the majors with 21 come-from-behind victories, including two against Pittsburgh the previous two nights.

“After what happened last night, it’s a big win for us,” Williams said. “I’m glad I’m standing here talking about a win, rather than about what happened last night.”

Williams was brought in to protect an 8-5 lead in the ninth, but the Reds quickly scored twice on Jose Guillen’s single, Ken Griffey Jr.’s double, a walk and Aaron Boone’s two-run single. Boone drove in four runs.

“You could certainly feel it,” Reds manager Bob Boone said of the near-miss comeback. “The guys were really battling at the end.”

But, with the potential winning run on base, Williams recovered to strike out Russell Branyan, then got Kelly Stinnett to hit into a game-ending double play for his 21st save in 25 opportunities. Stinnett also struck out against Salomon Torres with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning.

Williams nearly got his hand on Stinnett’s grounder, but was glad afterward he didn’t.

“I would have (messed) it up for sure, the way things are going,” Williams said.

By winning for only the 16th time in 42 home games, the Pirates avoided being swept at home by Cincinnati in a three-game series for the first time since Aug. 25-27, 1995.

“This was a tough save for Mike, one that really tests your foundation,” Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. “You’ve got to give him a lot of credit. That inning was going bad and he found a way to stop it. He showed his character and he showed his toughness.”

Stairs, a streak hitter throughout his career, has eight of his nine homers in a 21-game span since coming off the disabled list June 10 in Toronto. He had only one homer in his first 37 games.

“It’s all been a matter of confidence, and I have a lot of it right now,” Stairs said.

Reggie Sanders followed Stairs’ second homer with a solo shot off reliever John Riedling that made it 8-2 in the fifth, but it still wasn’t a safe lead for the Pirates, who led 3-1 Tuesday only to lose 5-3 on Jose Guillen’s homer in the eighth.

Of the Pirates’ 46 losses, 15 occurred when they were ahead or tied after six innings—only one fewer loss than they had all last season.

Even with a six-run lead, Pirates starting pitcher Josh Fogg (5-3) couldn’t retire a batter in the sixth, allowing Adam Dunn’s triple, Boone’s RBI single and Branyan’s run-scoring double before being lifted. Branyan had four hits in two games while first baseman Sean Casey served a two-game suspension.

In the seventh, Scott Sauerbeck walked Boone with the bases loaded to force in a run and put the potential go-ahead run at the plate. But Sauerbeck then struck out Branyan, and Torres came on to strike out Stinnett and strand three runners.

Dempster (2-5) allowed at least one run in every inning while working into the fifth. Jason Kendall doubled and scored on Jeff Reboulet’s single in the first, and first baseman Branyan’s two-base error on Fogg’s sacrifice bunt in the second scored another run.

“You can’t start looking hard for answers,” Dempster said. “They beat me up tonight.”

The game marked the midpoint of the Pirates’ season. They are 35-46, one victory fewer than they had a season ago after 81 games, and are on pace for a club-record 11th consecutive losing season.

The Reds finished 4-8 on a four-city road trip to Arizona, St. Louis, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, their most losses on a road swing since they droppedeight of nine at Cleveland, San Francisco and San Diego in June 2000.

Notes

Stairs is 4-for-6 with three homers against Dempster. … Stairs is 16-for-35 (.457) with 14 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs in 21 games since coming off the disabled list. … RHP Ryan Wagner, the Reds’ top pick in the June draft, was promoted to Triple-A Louisville from Double-A Chattanooga. … Pirates CF Kenny Lofton sat out a second straight game with a strained rightcalf.

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