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PIT@CIN: Gaby slugs a pinch-hit two-run home run

CINCINNATI -- There was no rip cord to pull. They haven't yet reached the end of the bungee, where they'd get sprung back up. Gravity was their only force, pulling them down.

Most of the Pirates' best drives died on Great American Ball Park's warning track. The Reds set up a three-run go-ahead rally with a double off the shortstop's glove. A Cincinnati pitcher, who in his last start gave up nearly as many runs (six) as outs he got for himself (seven), got 20 relatively easy ones.

While Reds righty Mike Leake, who had lasted 2 1/3 innings in his last start and had a 6.18 ERA for the last 10, kept the Bucs quiet for seven innings, Kevin Correia got off to a late start.

After the game, a 5-3 loss to the Reds on Tuesday, Correia also got off the best perspective.

"We feel like we're in a bad position because of the way we got here," Correia said. "But if we'd have won eight of 10 to get to this exact same place, everybody'd be pretty excited."

Well played, because, after the Cardinals fell to the Padres in San Diego later Tuesday, the Pirates remained 2 1/2 games out of a postseason spot with 21 games remaining.

Except, the opportunity did not feel that golden after a fifth straight loss, the Bucs' first five-game losing streak since Games 4-8 of the season, back in early April when thoughts of a bona fide midseason run for a playoff spot were pure fantasy.

And the latest defeat also brought the Bucs to the unimaginable precipice of that .500 record. They now are 72-69, the first time they have been only plus-three of .500 since being 38-35 on June 26. Not long ago a mere appetizer, that .500 mark may soon have to be the main course.

Gaby Sanchez tried his best to push the Pirates back closer to safety. His two-run pinch-hit homer with two outs in the seventh cut into the 4-1 lead Leake had held since the second.

"That's why they put me in there. They know I can do those things," Sanchez said, "try to get something going. We've got to keep fighting, pushing forward. Teams have bounced back from worse than this."

Leake finished that inning, then was done, having allowed nine hits and three runs in seven innings, with one walk and three strikeouts. Scott Rolen then added a solo shot off Kyle McPherson in the eighth to keep the Bucs at bay, and Jonathan Broxton finished up for his first save with the Reds.

The teams' first innings had a lot in common. Home runs, for one: Alex Presley's one-out smash in the top was neutralized by Brandon Phillips' first-pitch launch in the bottom. For another, both missed opportunities for bigger innings. The Bucs couldn't cash in Garrett Jones' two-out double, and the Reds didn't add on after Joey Votto walked with one out and Ryan Ludwick followed with a single.

In the second, Phillips' RBI double -- punched through into left field by diving shortstop Clint Barmes -- made it 2-1, and two more runs scored on one wild pitch, although the second technically scored on catcher Michael McKenry's errant toss to Correia covering the plate.

The inning had begun with Dioner Navarro drawing a walk. With one out, Leake, a very good hitter, singled. Phillips' "glove double" ensued, then the curve ball to Drew Stubbs that bounced away. Leake, a very fast runner, triggered what turned out to be a decisive sequence with his dash home.

So besides being out-pitched, Correia had to recognize being out-hit and out-run by his mound foe.

"They have a pretty good hitting pitcher, and he managed to slug a ball through the hole," Correia said. "And the curve didn't kick away that far, they just had Leake, probably one of the fastest pitchers in the league. Nobody else would've even tried to go on that -- any other pitcher -- but he's got the speed to do it and created a play for them."

Correia got tough after that second. Real tough: He blanked the Reds across his last four innings, spacing only three other hits. It brought his night's work to three earned runs (four total) and seven hits in six innings, with three walks and two strikeouts.

"A couple of random things happened in that second, and I gave up three runs," Correia summed up. "And that was pretty much the gist of the outing right there."

Even a rare solid hit with a man in scoring position turned out all wrong for the Pirates. Barmes led off the fifth with a double and, attempting to sacrifice him to third, Correia fouled out on his bunt. Bad enough.

Brock Holt lined a crisp single to right -- Pittsburgh's sixth hit in its last 40 at-bats with a man in scoring position. Third-base coach Nick Leyva immediately held up Barmes at third, but Holt still made too wide a turn around first, and was out on cutoff man Votto's toss to an alert Phillips, covering first. Presley then hit a weak comebacker to the mound.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle couldn't help acknowledging the crack defensive execution on that play ... particularly the manner in which Phillips managed to put the tag on Holt.

"A backdoor pick at first [that] squelched a rally ... can't take it away from them, especially when a guy can put the tag on between his legs," said Hurdle, who otherwise chalked it up as a learning experience for the rookie Holt.

"That's truly an awareness play," the manager said. "A hard-hit ball to right field, a Gold Glove outfielder out there [Jay Bruce] with a strong arm. You're not going to take a chance on running [second to home]. There's really nowhere to go. [Holt] could've handled it better. It sure didn't help our cause."

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