CINCINNATI -- All the dogs from "Bark in the Park" night at Great American Ball Park had long retired to their kennels at home. Many of the handfuls of the punchy 16,577 human fans that remained let out giddy howls in the wee hours of the night.
But as Monday night became Tuesday morning, this was no laughing matter for the Reds or Pirates as both teams needed this game for different reasons. It took 5 hours and 22 minutes over 14 innings before the Reds finally claimed a 4-3 victory on Ryan Ludwick's two-out infield single.
"When you go into the late innings like that, you never want to be on the losing side," Ludwick said. "We haven't played our best baseball of the year as of late. That's the type of game that can turn things around and maybe get us in the right direction."
This was a game both sides could have won much earlier. Pittsburgh (72-68), which has now lost four in a row as it tries to keep its postseason hopes alive, was 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. Cincinnati, which lost four of six entering the game, was 2-for-10 with RISP and stranded 13.
Leading off the bottom of the 14th in a 3-3 game, Devin Mesoraco lined a long single off of the left-field wall against Rick van den Hurk. Brandon Phillips then squibbed a ball in front of the plate as he fell down, but Mesoraco beat catcher Mike McKenry's fielder's-choice throw to second base.
With two outs, a wild pitch to Ludwick moved the runners to second and third base. Ludwick then grounded a ball deep to the hole at shortstop, where Chase d'Arnaud bobbled it as Mesoraco scored. It was unlikely that d'Arnaud had a play to get Ludwick as he hustled hard down the line and kept going.
"Who was the guy who ran out of the end zone and into the tunnel? I felt a little bit like Bo Jackson," Ludwick said. "And I put my hands up in the air like I just won the 200-meter sprint like Usain Bolt in the Olympics."
Capping off eight straight scoreless innings for the Reds' bullpen, Alfredo Simon earned the win after he performed an escape act in the top of the 14th with the bases loaded and no outs. d'Arnaud flied to shallow left-center, too shallow for a sacrifice fly after Chris Heisey's good throw. Pedro Alvarez grounded to first base, where Joey Votto threw home for the force play. Jose Tabata grounded out to first base to end the inning.
"When you got a bases loaded, no outs, and you get three outs, it's a big deal," Simon said. "That was a really good game. We just kept fighting all night long, and I just got lucky to get the win. I just did a tremendous job with the bases loaded and nobody out and tried to keep the game like that."
Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez had held the Reds to one hit over his first six innings, and retired his first 10 batters. Cincinnati's first hit came when Heisey tattooed a 1-2 pitch for a home run to left-center field.
Rodriguez retired eight of nine after the Heisey homer but saw his brilliant work unraveled in the seventh. Although Rodriguez had only 89 pitches, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle pulled the left-hander with runners on first and second base with two outs. Reliever Jared Hughes' first batter, Dioner Navarro, promptly tied the game with a two-run double just inside the right-field line to make it a 3-3 game.
"That's the second-worst feeling a manager can have, when you make that move and it doesn't work," Hurdle said. "The worst is when you leave the pitcher in and the guy hits a home run, and then you get him and walk off. I make that move, and I have to wear it."
Taken off of the hook was Reds starter Mat Latos, who had a three-run top of the fourth in which eight men batted and he fell into a 3-0 deficit.
Latos settled down and the bullpen kept the door closed after the sixth, despite numerous threats. In the top of the 10th, Aroldis Chapman wasn't sharp as he walked his first two batters on nine pitches and issued a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez that loaded the bases. Chapman was removed in the middle of an inning for the first time this season.
Sam LeCure got McKenry to ground out to third base to end the threat. LeCure returned and struck out the side in the top of the 11th.
"I thought our bullpen did a phenomenal job. I think they're the unsung heroes," Ludwick said.
Things got briefly heated in the eighth inning when Phillips was hit by Hughes' first pitch. Phillips briefly stopped and looked at Hughes and made a nonchalant toss of the ball toward the mound. That prompted Hughes to bark some words at Phillips, who ignored him as umpires stepped in and warned both benches.
The Reds had runners in scoring position in the eighth, 10th and 11th innings and came up with zeros. In the 10th with the bases loaded and one out against Chris Resop, Ludwick worked a full count but hit a soft grounder to first base for a force play at home. Resop struck out Jay Bruce to lay a golden opportunity to waste.
"I stunk the entire game," Ludwick said. "I felt like I had a thousand chances to win that ballgame. I finally got it done on 1,000. I felt like every time I got up, there were runners in scoring position with less than two outs. I'm glad I got the job done in ... what was it, the bottom of the 14th?"
There were runners on first and third with one out in the 11th when Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan escaped.
The 85-57 Reds extended their National League Central lead to 9 1/2 games over the Cardinals, and lowered the magic number to clinch to 12 with 20 games remaining.
"If you're going to work overtime, you might as well win," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We had a lot of chances. They had some chances. That was a game we really needed, big time. Everybody is a little spent emotionally as well as physically."