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By Chad Carlson
Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The Pirates took the field tonight against the Cincinnati Reds (after a 50 minute rain delay) only a half-game back of the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the N.L. Central.  This evening’s matchup is the first of a two-week span that has been predicted to be the make-or-break point of the season for Pittsburgh.  A strong start in this series against the underachieving Reds would be huge for our Buccos to get the home-stand off on the right track.
An incredible pitching performance by the entire staff and a pair of manufactured runs proved to be the difference tonight at PNC Park, as the Pirates won a low-scoring contest against the Reds, 2-0.
Charlie Morton took the hill for the Pirates, looking to improve on his 7-5 record and lower his 3.80 ERA.  After a phenomenal start to the season, his performance has curtailed tailed off as summer has progressed.  Tonight, while less than stellar, Charlie managed the game and pitched his way out of some serious jams, giving up just three hits through his five innings of work while improving to 8-5 for the year.  Tony Watson pitched 2.2 innings of shutout, no-hit ball himself, and Daniel McCutchen came in and finished up the eighth inning.
Joel Hanrahan showed no effects following his first blown save of the season yesterday.  The Buccos’ closer set the Reds down in order to record his 27th save of the season.
The Reds threatened early in the first inning tonight against Morton and the Buccos.  Drew Stubbs was hit by a pitch, and Zack Cozart smacked a single to put runners on first and third with no outs.  After Joey Votto’s ground out pushed runners to second and third, Brandon Phillips struck out.  Jay Bruce was then intentionally walked to load the bases for Miguel Cairo.  Just before the 1-2 pitch of the at-bat, the game was halted for a one hour 23 minute rain delay. 
After the break, Morton came back out and forced Cairo to slap a weak ground ball to second base, which was stabbed by Chase d’Arnaud and flipped to Neil Walker for the force out.  While it was only the top of the first inning, this half-frame proved to set the tone for the game that featured the Reds leaving too many men on base and the Pirates cashing in their chances on the offensive end.
The Pirates took the lead in the fourth inning.  d’Arnaud and Walker led off with back to back hits, putting runners on second and third with no outs.  Unlike the Reds earlier in the game, the Buccos capitalized on their opportunity.  Andrew McCutchen grounded out, allowing d’Arnaud to score, and Matt Diaz smacked a sacrifice fly to right field, which scored Walker.  The Pirates owned a 2-0 lead, which would ultimately be the final.
Wow, this was a phenomenal performance by the Pirates’ pitching staff.  Morton, Watson, McCutchen, and Hanrahan combined to pitch nine innings of shutout baseball, allowing just three hits and three walks to one of the highest scoring offenses in the league.  For the Reds, it was a game of missed opportunities, as they left a total of nine runners on base.
This was a perfect way to start the home-stand for Pittsburgh.  On a night when the offense struggled mightily, managing just six hits, Morton and the bullpen shut down the high-powered Reds’ offense.  In what is being called the most important stretch of the season thus far, the Pirates couldn’t have started off on a better note.
Neil Walker extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a two-hit performance tonight, while McCutchen and Diaz, on a night where runs were at a premium, each added an RBI.  Alex Presley continued his impressive run with two more hits tonight, raising his average to an impressive .352 for the season. 
In addition to the excitement at PNC Park, scoreboard watching was at an all-time high this evening as the Arizona Diamondbacks shut out the Milwaukee Brewers, 3-0.  With the win and the Brewers’ loss, the Pirates are now sitting atop the N.L. Central standings alone, a half-game up on the Brew-Crew and the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Bucs are now six games over .500 and have put themselves in fantastic position to take this series against the Reds.
Tomorrow evening’s game is set for a 7:05pm first pitch.  James McDonald will take the hill for the Pirates, looking for his sixth win of the season against Cincinnati’s Mike Leake.
Record Vs. Reds: 6-1
Record Vs. N.L. Central: 23-13
Record At Home: 24-22
Overall Record: 50-44
And…
As Always…
Let’s Go Bucs!