Reds 6, Pirates 1
CINCINNATI (AP)—Jeff Conine liked his home run a lot. It put his team ahead and got him back to the heated dugout quickly.
The 40-year-old outfielder, acquired in a December trade to platoon at first base, led the Reds to a win for the second day in a row. Conine also had a game-tying, pinch-hit single and scored the go-ahead run against the Cubs on Thursday.
He homered off Pittsburgh’s Paul Maholm (0-1) in the third inning for a 4-1 lead on Friday. He also beat out a triple to the wall in center field in the sixth, taking deep gulps of freezing air while he beat the throw to third.
The key on this night was getting out of the cold as quickly as possible.
“We were getting quick innings, so we weren’t doing a lot of standing around,” said Conine, whose ears and nose were red from the cold after the game.
The Pirates opened the season 3-0 for the first time since 2003, but couldn’t keep the winning streak going against right-hander Matt Belisle (1-0), who retired 14 in a row over the middle innings. Pittsburgh managed only four hits—none after the second inning.
“Belisle was out there pitching in the same conditions, and he was throwing strikes,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. “He shut us completely down.”
It was 36 degrees with a biting wind at the first pitch, and snowflakes occasionally dotted the night sky. The three base umpires wore facemasks and gloves to ward off the cold.
The Reds sold 17,837 tickets for the game. Fans who wore shorts for the season opener on Monday, when temperatures were in the mid-70s, broke out their winter coats and blankets and huddled together for the first game of the weekend series.
Maholm made two bad pitches and got one bad break during his five innings. Brandon Phillips hit a solo homer in the first inning—right fielder Xavier Nady dug his cleats into the padded outfield wall and reached above it, but couldn’t quite come up with the ball.
The Reds then put two runners aboard and got a break in the third. Edwin Encarnacion singled with two outs and Ken Griffey Jr. followed with a slow grounder to the left side of an over-shifted infield. Umpire Jeff Kellogg called Griffey safe at first on a close play that prolonged the inning, and Conine hit his first homer into the seats in left field for a 4-1 lead.
“Early on, I reverted back to what I did last year,” Maholm said. “I was jumping at the plate and wasn’t smooth. When I went out in the fourth to warm up, I felt it and corrected it. The first three innings were pretty brutal.”
“I’ve never pitched in snow flurries,” Belisle said. “Basically, I just stayed bundled up. They have a heater up in the tunnel (by the dugout) and I go up there sometimes, but the main thing is I make sure to not sit too long.”
The main thing was to make sure his fielders didn’t have to stand out in the cold for long. Belisle worked fast and threw a pleasing 73 strikes in 105 pitches.
“He’s done everything we asked,” manager Jerry Narron said. “Tonight, he was trying to get outs as quickly as he could and get guys off the field and back into the dugout.”
The Pirates have gotten off to their fast start without NL batting champion Freddy Sanchez, who sprained a knee ligament on March 6. Sanchez is eligible to come off the disabled list on Saturday, but the Pirates haven’t decided when he will rejoin the team.
Sanchez played for Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday night, going 1-for-2. Asked if there is a chance that Sanchez could join the Pirates in Cincinnati over the weekend, Tracy said, “I don’t know.”
The Reds changed Saturday’s game to an afternoon start because of the cold. The original 7:10 p.m. start was moved to 1:05 p.m. after the Reds consulted with the Pirates, the umpires and Major League Baseball. … INF Jose Hernandez, who was released by Pittsburgh on March 31, has agreed to a minor league deal and will join Triple-A Indianapolis in the next few days. … Reds LHP Eric Milton felt fine on Friday and is still expected to come off the DL and start on Sunday in the final game of a series against Pittsburgh. Milton has been sidelined by back spasms.