CINCINNATI -- It's the kind of late-inning decision managers will get second-guessed on within milliseconds of making it. When is the right time to take out the starting pitcher?
Reds manager Dusty Baker already knew the questions would flow like Niagara Falls following Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Pirates. The circumstances were right out of the textbook of a second-guessing 101 class.
Baker's starting pitcher, Homer Bailey, had a brilliant day of pitching and a career-high 12 strikeouts. But as Bailey crossed the 100-pitch mark in a 1-1 game on a hot and muggy afternoon, Baker stuck with his right-hander as Pittsburgh threatened.
"I wanted to give Homer a chance to win the game," Baker said. "People don't understand, but it doesn't matter to me because I'm going to do what I think is right for my team and right for him. It's tough to go out there and get a no-decision or a loss the way he's throwing the ball. I can see a level of frustration on his face down there that we haven't gotten him any runs."
A loser in his last two starts since his July 2 no-hitter vs. the Giants, Bailey had plenty of octane in the arm in his first post-All Star break outing after a nine-day break. His fastball often crossed 95 mph, including a 99-mph high heater that struck out Michael McKenry to end the top of the fourth.
Bailey's only early blemish came in the second inning with one out when Garrett Jones slugged a first-pitch breaking ball into the right-field seats for a 418-foot solo homer. A McKenry single followed, but Bailey went on to retire 15 of his next 17 batters.
With the game tied at 1-1 in the seventh, fortunes changed for Bailey when McKenry worked through a 10-pitch at-bat and hit a one-out double to the wall in left-center field. At that point, reliever J.J. Hoover was warming up in the bullpen.
"That last inning, McKenry had just a great at-bat," Bailey said. "He fouled off a 2-2 slider that I couldn't have thrown any better."
Jordy Mercer ended Pittsburgh's 0-for-29 drought with runners in scoring position with a rolling single up the middle that scored the go-ahead run. Clint Barmes added an soft rolling infield single to the shortstop. Zack Cozart's hurried throw was in the dirt, but Barmes would have been safe anyway.
Bailey was at 120 pitches as pinch-hitter Jose Tabata stepped in, but he said he didn't feel too fatigued.
"Not as much tired as I was frustrated a little bit," Bailey said. "The ground balls that were hit were just slow enough. If the one to Cozart was hit a little faster, he gets him at first. Little stuff like that."
Bailey's next pitch was his final one. A 95-mph fastball was scorched for a lined single just over Brandon Phillips' glove for an RBI single by Tabata and a 3-1 Pirates' lead.
"In that situation, I needed to put up a zero. We made some really good pitches. It just didn't work out for us," Bailey said. "There were two ground balls where the game of inches really played out. In McKenry's at-bat, he fouled off, fouled off, and took some pitches he swung at in the past. The game of inches kind of bit me today."
Bailey gave up three runs and seven hits over 6 1/3 innings with one walk. His previous career high in strikeouts was 10.
"I know Homer had a lot of pitches," Baker said. "But he was throwing as hard when I took him out as he was [all game]. They had a couple of balls that were nearly caught. It's not like they were banging him all around."
Cincinnati, which notched only three hits in the game -- two of them by Shin-Soo Choo, who extended his hit streak to 15 games -- missed out on notching a three-game sweep of its National League Central rival to fall three games back of the second-place Bucs.
Pirates lefty Jeff Locke, now 2-0 with a 1.22 ERA in four starts lifetime vs. the Reds, was effective and didn't give up another hit following Choo's leadoff single in the first inning. But there were chances to take back the game.
Trailing, 1-0, into the fifth, Locke became wild and walked two batters. Runners were on second and third with two outs when a wild pitch in the dirt to Choo scored Cozart with the tying run.
Choo's second hit, a single through the right side against reliever Mark Melancon, put runners on the corners in the eighth inning with no outs. Melancon then walked Chris Heisey to load the bases for Joey Votto. Derrick Robinson scored as Votto grounded into a nicely-turned 3-6-1 double play by Pittsburgh to snap Melancon's 15-inning scoreless streak. Brandon Phillips grounded out to short to end the inning.
"Melancon just really showed up big with the at-bat and the matchup with Votto," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He doesn't pull many balls, but when you got a cutter, you can work a ball in and get him to roll over. [Gaby] Sanchez started that play, we turn it in the middle. It was as good a play as we've made all year in a tight situation."
Heading out for an 11-game road trip on the West Coast, the Reds trail the first-place Cardinals by five games.
"It hurts when you have an opportunity," Baker said. "That's kind of been the offense most of the year."