CINCINNATI -- A Reds bullpen with the best ERA in the National League was at manager Dusty Baker's disposal, as was arguably one of the best closers around in Aroldis Chapman.
To secure a win on Sunday night, Baker went all-in with his best relievers in the late innings. Then he watched it all come apart in a painful 7-6 loss to the Tigers in which Chapman took his second loss in a row during a four-run Detroit top of the eighth.
"That one hurts big time," Baker said.
In more ways than one, for sure. The Reds lost two of three in the series to Detroit. Gone too was sole possession of first place as the Pirates nuzzled up into a tie atop the NL Central.
None of that seemed possible in the seventh when Reds starter Homer Bailey was enjoying a strong evening and a 6-2 lead. With two outs, Bailey gave up Quintin Berry's blooped single into center field on his 112th pitch of the game. With Miguel Cabrera on deck, Baker lifted Bailey.
"We decided he shouldn't face Cabrera with 112 pitches after [Cabrera] hit him hard a couple of times. He's a dangerous man," Baker said.
Bailey felt like he had more in the tank, but didn't question being removed.
"It felt like my velocity was still pretty good and I was making some pitches in that last inning," Bailey said. "It was Dusty's decision and with all the confidence I had in our bullpen, why would you argue with it? Those guys have been picking us up all year. It's funny how the cards fall some days."
This time, they fell in all the wrong ways for a relief corps that owned a 2.46 ERA coming in. Jose Arredondo was charged with the task to secure the third out, but Cabrera was on first base with a walk five pitches later.
"That was the best matchup we had," Baker said. "We had two outs and hoped to get him and start the next inning off with [lefty Sean] Marshall and then go to our right-handers depending if anyone got on base or not. You plan and talk about things and sometimes the best plans don't work, especially when you don't have a chance for them to work with a walk."
With lefty Prince Fielder due up, Baker countered with Marshall. Fielder was 6-for-23 with 10 strikeouts lifetime against Marshall, but that sixth hit was the game-winning, eighth-inning RBI single for Detroit on Saturday.
Fielder got the best of Marshall again with a lined RBI single to right field as Berry slid safely just past Devin Mesoraco's tag at the plate. Logan Ondrusek finished the inning with a strikeout and was brought back to begin the top of the eighth with a three-run lead.
Ondrusek walked leadoff batter Ramon Santiago and gave up Gerald Laird's blooped single into shallow center field. In a move not yet seen since he became the closer last month, Chapman was summoned to try for a six-out save.
"We didn't want to go two innings with him, but that was the inning of decision right there after those two guys got on base," Baker said.
Chapman, who allowed his first earned run of the season for a loss against the Pirates on Thursday, had pressure increasing quickly. His first batter, pinch-hitter Brennan Boesch, sharply grounded a single into right field to load the bases. On a 1-2 pitch, Chapman grazed Matt Young with a 100-mph fastball that forced home a run.
"It hit my elbow. There were two sounds. That helped me out," Young said. "I think it was obvious it was getting by me. That bailed us out."
The game of inches hurt Cincinnati again when Austin Jackson pulled a ground-rule double that touched the left-field line, scoring Laird and pinch-runner Hernan Perez with the tying run. The rally built even more as Berry drew a four-pitch walk from Chapman.
Following a mound visit from Baker, a wild pitch in the dirt from Chapman to Cabrera scored Young from third base with Detroit's go-ahead run.
"He's human. He's not a robot out there just striking everybody out," said Mesoraco, who hit a solo homer in the fourth inning.
Not a robot, maybe, but seemingly unbeatable until Thursday. Chapman had gone 24 appearances and 29 innings without allowing an earned run and giving up just seven hits with 52 strikeouts. In his last two appearances, not only has he given up three of his own runs, he's also let two inherited runs score after not allowing any of his previous nine score this season.
Chapman departed the clubhouse before the media was permitted to enter following the game.
The Reds are now 21-3 this season when leading after seven innings.
"That's going to happen," said third baseman Todd Frazier, who had a four-RBI game. "That's like a good hitter a lot of times. Seventy percent of the time they're going to get out, so they'll be fine. It happens."
Frazier had a broken-bat, two-run single that gave the Reds a 2-0 lead in the second inning. His two-run homer in the sixth gave his team what seemed to be airtight four-run lead.
In the three games against Detroit, the Reds scored 14 runs and Frazier had seven RBIs. None of that mattered in the wee hours Sunday night.
"I'd rather score one RBI and get a win to be honest," Frazier said. "Tomorrow is a new day and we're still in first place; whether we're tied or not, we're the leaders. The off-day [Monday] is going to be good for us and we're going to come back strong."