And it didn’t take long for the slaughter to commence. In front of a smallish live studio audience, the Reds scored 10 runs in the second inning then backed off to post an 11-6 victory.
The highlight was a grand slam by Jose Iglesias, but that came off relief pitcher Montana DuRapau, called up from Class AAA Indianapolis earlier in the afternoon.
McRae was long gone, giving up five hits and two walks while retiring one batter in the second.
“I hit the grand slam, but I lost a bet,” said Iglesias. “I told Yasiel Puig and the guys that if I hit a home run (Monday) I’d color my hair like them. So I have to do it and I’ll do yellow or purple. Probably purple.”
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When Iglesias touched home plate after his home run, he was the ninth different Reds player to score in that inning — all nine guys in the lineup scored a run in the second.
“I put a great swing on the ball at the right time for the team,” said Iglesias.
Bell continues to be most appreciative of his shortstop, both with the glove and the bat after the team rescued Iglesias off the scrap heap, where he was tossed by the Detroit Tigers.
Bell smiled and recalled a message Iglesias had for him not long ago.
“He told me early on, ‘Don’t ever pinch hit for me when there are runners on base,’ ” said Bell. “That’s because he believes in what he can do. He likes it, whether it is offensively or defensively — he wants the ball. He wants to be at the plate when things are on the line.”
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McRae’s credentials to start this game? He was called up last Thursday from Indianapolis, where he was 6-6 with a 4.96 ERA in 16 starts. In an early June relief appearance, before a demotion, he pitched 4.1 innings of relief, 95 pitches, against the Atlanta Braves and gave up eight runs.
The Reds, though, felt no pity or remorse for attacking the wreckage of the Pittsburgh pitching staff.
And Joey Votto rubbed their noses in it. With a 10-1 lead in the third, he singled for the third straight inning. When the Pirates didn’t hold him on first, he took second.
In some quarters, that’s breaking one of baseball’s unwritten rules — stealing a base with a huge lead.
In Votto’s defense, the Reds have blown big early leads more than once this season.
It remained to be seen how the Pirates would react, especially the way the two teams have spent the last few seasons using each other for target practice.
When Votto batted in the fifth he hit the first pitch just to the right of the right-field foul pole, a few inches away from a home run. Pitcher Montana DuRapau did not come close to hitting him and Votto walked on a full count.
The Pirates made some noise in the sixth and Colin Moran matched the grand slam hit by Iglesias.
The beneficiary of the one-inning explosion was Reds starter Sonny Gray. He gave up a solo home run in the first to Adam Frazier and a solo home run to Bryan Reynolds in the fifth.
When he gave up two singles in the sixth inning, he was removed, but for Wandy Peralta. He walked Bryan Reynolds to fill the bases and Moran unloaded a grand slam, cutting the lead to 11-6.
Gray struck around long enough to win the game, leveling his record at 6-6. In 5.1 innings he gave up four runs, six hits, walked one and struck out three, throwing 89 pitches.
“Sonny held ’em down, even without his best stuff, because he knows how to pitch and he competes so well,” said Bell.
“I definitely didn’t have my best stuff, that’s for sure,” he said. “But we came out swinging the bats and really put the pressure on them.”
The Reds have the best offense in the National League since the All-Star break in most categories and Gray appreciated it Monday.
“We made some great plays to settle the game down and it was a testament to our offense and defense,” Gray said. “I just didn’t have it and I need to be better than that, especially when we put up a 10-spot.”
When it mercifully ended, Votto had three hits, a walk and two RBIs. Eugenio Suarez had three hits, Scooter Gennett had two hits and Iglesias had only one hit, but it was the home run that drove in four runs.
And suddenly, with little fanfare, the Reds are within 6.5 games of the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, both of which are tied for first place in the National League Central.