In the top of the eighth, catcher Roberto Perez rounded second base on a base hit by Ben Gamel. Perez had to scramble back and twisted his ankle, forcing him out of the game.
And the Pirates had no catcher. In that eighth inning, the Pirates loaded the bases with no outs against Lucas Sims with a 2-2 score.
Sims proceeded to strand all three runners by striking out in succession Ke’Bryan Hayes, Daniel Vogelbach and Michael Chavis, leaving it at 2-2.
With no catcher, the Pirates were forced to put former Cincinnati Reds infielder Josh VanMeter behind the plate, his first time in catching gear since junior high.
And it was a Pirate disaster.
The Reds scored seven runs in the bottom of the eighth, more runs than they had scored in the entirety of their previous 25 games … never scoring more than six.
It began with a hit by pitch on Brandon Drury and walks to Tommy Pham and Mike Moustakas, both on full counts.
That filled the bases with no outs and Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson doubled home two runs. Stephenson had driven in the Reds first two runs.
Colin Moran walked to re-fill the bases and T.J. Friedl’s sacrifice fly made it 5-2. Albert Almora Jr. reached on pitcher Beau Sulser’s error, loading the bases again.
Tyler Naquin doubled home three runs and Drury, batting for the second time in the inning, doubled for another run and a 2-2 tie was turned into a 9-2 lead and an easy victory.
In Game Two, the Reds tried an opener, using relief pitcher Dauri Moreta to start the game. It was a quick fizzle.
The Pirates scored four runs in the top of the first, blasting three home runs. Bryan Reynolds hit a one-out homer and Hayes doubled.
Manager David Bell quickly went to the bullpen and summoned Phillip Diehl. With two outs, Yoshi Tsutsugo and Diego Castillo hit back-to-back home runs for a 4-0 lead.
The Reds quickly cut the lead in half in the bottom of the first on Drury’s run-scoring double and a two-out single by Moustakas to make it 4-2.
The Pirates expanded their lead to 7-2 in in the fourth with a three-spot against Robert Dugger, claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay earlier in the week.
He struck out two, but Cole Tucker doubled home a run and Gamel drove a two-run homer into the right-field seats.
The Reds drew within two in the fourth when Friedl singled, Reynolds walked and Drury crushed a three-run homer to pull them within 7-5.
Tony Santillan walked Daniel Vogelbach on four pitches to open the seventh, then struck out the next two and had two strikes on Jack Suwinski. But he put a fastball right down the middle of First Street and Suwinski ripped it to the left-field corner for a run-scoring double and an 8-5 Pirates lead.
The Reds frittered a major opportunity in the seventh when Drury blooped a double and Pham walked, putting two on with no outs.
But Pirates relief pitcher Max Kranick struck out Moustakas and Moran, then extended Kyle Farmer’s futility streak to 0 for 28 with a weak ground ball.
Jared Solomon, the Reds’ No. 11 draft pick in 2017, made his major-league debut in the ninth and walked the first batter he faced, Tsusugo, on four pitches. Diego Castillo followed with an infield hit to shortstop.
Then Solomon snapped to it by striking out Suwinski and Knapp and retiring Cole Tucker on a fly ball to leave it at 8-5.
Pittsburgh closer David Bednar closed it out. Drury had three hits, but Bednar struck him out. Pham completed a hitless day in both games by striking out. And Moustakas completed the K trifecta by striking out to end it.