PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Pirates spent most of 2011 flirting with a long-awaited breakthrough.
The home finale was no different.
“The finish today, we were one run short and that’s the way it’s been more often than not the last 50 games,” said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. “I’m proud of the effort, but we’ve got to work on execution.”
Pittsburgh dropped to 20-44 since moving into first-place with a win over the Reds on July 19 and need to win two of three in Milwaukee to avoid its seventh straight season of at least 90 losses.
It’s been a bumpy last two months, but Hurdle pointed to the largest crowd in a home finale in PNC Park history as proof the franchise is headed in the right direction. The Pirates already have 14 more wins than they did a year ago.
“We’ve got more work to do,” Hurdle said. “The record isn’t what we want but steps were taken toward building something that I think will have significance. That’s the goal for next season is to finish what we start.”
The Reds were able to finally do just that for starter Dontrelle Willis (1-6), who let out three months of frustration with six strong innings and a game-deciding two-run double.
“The guys really battled for me today,” Willis said. “They knew it was my last start and the way I pitched poorly the last start I wanted to finish the season with confidence. We went out there and played a good game.”
Willis gave up three runs, walked two and struck out six to collect his first victory in the majors since beating the Colorado Rockies while pitching for Arizona on June 5, 2010.
The road back to the win column has been bumpy. Willis pitched well enough in Triple-A Louisville to earn a callup from the Reds in July. He impressed early on but was undone by a bullpen that blew three saves in his first five starts.
On his 13th and final start of the year it nearly happened again.
Francisco Cordero gave up a run-scoring double to Neil Walker with one out in the ninth before retiring the next two batters for his 35th save.
The Reds gave Willis the customary beer shower postgame after the 29-year-old battled through cramps and shook off a rough second inning to help Cincinnati avoid a three-game sweep.
“I felt like I was playing good baseball up until my last start,” Willis said. “Everybody’s tired but everybody continues to push on.”
Pittsburgh’s Chase d’Arnaud had two hits, including a two-run triple.
Daniel Moskos (1-1) took the loss, allowing three consecutive hits in the sixth, the last one a double to right-field by Willis, one of the best-hitting pitchers in the game.
“That was a big two-run double,” said Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker. “It was great to get him that first (win) because it was a long time coming for him.”
Cincinnati skipped Willis’ start in the rotation while he dealt with some back spasms, but he finally delivered on the mound at the plate to avoid finishing the year winless.
His only real trouble came in the second. A single by Derrek Lee, a walk to Ryan Ludwick and a couple of wild pitches put runners on second and third with one out. D’Arnaud, batting just .121 in 19 games since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 25, tripled to left-center then came home on Mike McKenry’s sacrifice fly.
It’s the only offense the Pirates would get off Willis, who used his considerable skills at the plate to put the Reds back in front. He drilled an offering from Moskos in the sixth to pick up his third double of the season. He’s hitting .400 (12 of 30) this year and could become the first pitcher since 16 years to hit at least .400 in a season. Allen Watson hit .417 (15 of 36) for St. Louis in 1996.
Jay Bruce and Chris Heisey had two hits apiece for the Reds.
The Pirates won the season series against the defending NL Central champions 10-5 but couldn’t finish off their first three-game home sweep of the Reds since April 2010.
Pittsburgh made it interesting in the ninth. Andrew McCutchen led off with a walk and scored on Neil Walker’s double. Cordero settled down to strike out Garrett Jones and got Pedro Alvarez to fly out to left to end it.
NOTES: The Pirates drew 28,758 for their home finale at PNC Park and drew 1.94 million for the season, the fourth-highest mark in team history. Pittsburgh finished the year 36-45 at home. ... Cincinnati finishes the season with a three-game set in New York beginning on Monday. Homer Bailey (9-7, 4.32 ERA) will start for the Reds while Chris Schwinden (0-2, 5.06 ERA) gets the nod for the Mets. ... Pittsburgh wraps up the year at NL Central winner Milwaukee. Charlie Morton (10-10, 3.67 ERA) will face Shaun Marcum (13-7, 3.31 ERA).