CINCINNATI (AP) — Pittsburgh emergency receiver Josh VanMeter had a tough time on his first try behind the plate since he was a teenager, and the Cincinnati Reds took the opportunity to end a nine-game losing streak, beating the Pirates 9-2 on Saturday in the opener of a double title.
Tyler Stephenson fouled a ball hard on VanMeter’s mask, then hit a game-tying double loaded in the eighth inning that fueled a seven-run flurry.
Pirates starting catcher Roberto Pérez was helped off the field with a left hamstring injury after falling while rounding second base in the top of the eighth. Backup receiver Andrew Knapp had been ejected by plate umpire Will Little in the bottom of the sixth for tweeting from the dugout.
That left VanMeter as the Pirates’ next best option at the plate — recently, the second baseman/outfielder recalled the last time he caught was when he was 14 or 15.
The 27-year-old VanMeter, who started his career with Cincinnati in 2019 and is in his first season with the Pirates, went from second base to behind plate to start eighth and gave his best. He also showed how difficult it is to be a receiver, even for a pro who has played almost everywhere on the court.
Working with a new, inexperienced drum mate, Wil Crowe (1-2) hit Brandon Drury with a pitch and walked Tommy Pham and Mike Moustakas to start the eighth no-out and score 2-all.
Stephenson stepped up and fouled the first pitch directly back. VanMeter took off his mask for a moment to recover and Little went to the mound to give Crowe a new ball, giving the new receiver a break. Cincinnati wide receiver Stephenson and VanMeter shared a few words in the meantime.
With the count 0-2, VanMeter stabbed three right sliders near the area but got none of the calls – perhaps his obvious lack of height-framing experience cost the Pirates.
Stephenson followed up by hitting a line down the right field line that escaped a diving Ben Gamel and rolled to the wall for two carries. It was Stephenson’s third hit of the day and gave him a career-high four RBIs.
Kyle Farmer added a sacrificial fly before Tyler Naquin made it three with a goal-laden brace. Only three of the runs were earned after pitcher Beau Sulser’s error.
The Reds posted their highest points total of the season and won for the first time since beating St. Louis 4-1 on April 24. Cincinnati still holds baseball’s worst record at 4-22.
Pittsburgh loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth against Lucas Sims (1-0), who bounced back to knock out Ke’Bryan Hayes, Daniel Vogelbach and Michael Chavis.
The Pirates have lost three of their last four games and seven of their last nine games. Saturday’s doubleheader was the second in four days for the Pirates, who split a twinbill in Detroit on Wednesday.
Game 1’s reported attendance of 9,267 was Cincinnati’s second-lowest of the season at home, just ahead of the 9,192 in hand for an 8-5 loss to San Diego on April 27.
Pirates starter JT Brubaker tied his career high in a single game with nine strikeouts in five innings. The Reds reached Brubaker for three hits and two runs with two walks.
In his second appearance and departure for the Reds since being promoted from Triple-A Louisville and his first career appearance against his former team, Reds right-hander Connor Overton walked no one while allowing six hits and two runs with four strikeouts in 5 2-3 innings.
Reds: LHP Nick Lodolo, who was expected to come out of the lost 10-day injury to start Saturday’s opener of the doubleheader, was scratched with returning lower back pain.
Pirates: RHP Zach Thompson (1-3, 9.39), who has lost each of his last three starts, was Pittsburgh’s scheduled starter for Sunday’s series finale.
Reds: RHP Tyler Mahle (1-4, 7.01) should look to break his three-game losing streak on Sunday.
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