CINCINNATI (AP) — Bryan Price thinks the heated rivalry between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati is a credit to the pitching.
Charlie Morton pitched five-hit ball for seven innings, Neil Walker hit a review-aided home run and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds 3-0 Sunday in a testy game in which benches cleared after stars Andrew McCutchen and Brandon Phillips were hit by pitches.
“I’ve been here six years,” the Reds manager said. “A lot of ours guys get hit. A lot of their guys get hit. There is always something in the air. The constant is we both pitch inside. It speaks to the success of our pitching staffs. When you pitch inside guys are going to get hit. There is a lot of testosterone. It’s just baseball.”
Pushing and shoving ensued in the eighth after the Reds’ Phillips was hit by a pitch by Pittsburgh left-hander Tony Watson. Cincinnati’s Pedro Villareal hit McCutchen in the top of the inning.
No punches were thrown between two teams with a history of altercations dating back a couple of years, but the altercation rekindled twice before order was restored. Pirates first baseman Sean Rodriguez and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto were ejected.
Pirates Closer Mark Melancon and manager Clint Hurdle were automatically ejected after Melancon hit Tucker Barnhart with one out in the ninth. Newly acquired Joakim Soria got the final two outs for his first National League save.
Morton (7-4), 0-3 with a 5.04 ERA over his last five starts, improved to 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA in his last six in Cincinnati. The right-hander had a season-high seven strikeouts and didn’t allow a runner past second base.
“I think it helps if I get groundballs and line drives,” Morton said. “If I can keep it in the ballpark, I think the small dimensions help the outfielders.”
“He’s very confident here in a hitter’s ballpark,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He had his best delivery today. He repeated his delivery all day long. It was a very solid effort.”
Reds’ right-hander Keyvius Sampson, making his second career appearance and first start, allowed three runs and three hits with one walk and six strikeouts in five innings. Sampson (0-1) became the fifth Cincinnati pitcher — all rookies — to make his first career start this season.
“I pitched Thursday (in relief) and that took some of the nervousness away,” Sampson said. “I was still nervous but I just told myself to keep the ball down. I have a reputation of walking guys. I wanted to attack. I walked a couple but they weren’t bad walks because there was a base open. I just have to make sure when I pitch outside I get it outside. That one inning the ball came back over the plate a couple times.”
Before a crowd of 39,596, Sampson retired the first seven batters he faced before Sean Rodriguez doubled into the left field corner with one out in the third inning. One out later, Gregory Polanco walked, and both runners scored on Starling Marte’s double to left-center field, his first hit in his last eight at-bats.
Walker extended the lead to 3-0 with a fourth-inning leadoff homer. Initially a triple, it was upgraded to a homer after a review of 1 minute, 25 seconds. Replays showed the ball bounced off a railing above the right-center field fence.
With two days off in the next nine, Hurdle plans to reshape the starting rotation. He wouldn’t say how. “We have three lefties, and we kind of like to break them up,” Hurdle said before Sunday’s game. “We want to talk to the players first.”
Cincinnati OF Kyle Waldrop stuck out as a pinch hitter in his major league debut in the fifth inning. Waldrop is the sixth player to make his major league debut with the Reds this season.
Pirates: All-Star RHP A.J. Burnett is scheduled to have an MRI on his ailing right elbow Monday. Burnett, who plans to retire after the season, said that there was “no chance” he would have season-ending surgery.
Reds: First baseman Joey Votto, who’d played in all but one of Cincinnati’s first 102 games this season and started 99, got Sunday off. Votto, who’d started all 16 of the Reds’ games since the All-Star break, struck out three times on Saturday for just the second time this season.
Pirates: LHP Francisco Liriano (7-6) is Pittsburgh’s scheduled starter against Cubs’ LHP Jon Lester (6-8) in the opener of a three-game series and six-game home stand. The Pirates are 4-6 against Chicago this season.
Reds: After Monday’s day off, Cincinnati opens a run of 13 games in 13 days with the first of a three-game series against Central-leading St. Louis. RHP Anthony DeSclafani (6-7) is the Reds’ scheduled starter. He is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two appearances against the Cardinals.