PITTSBURGH -- The Reds have been waiting a long time for lightning to strike twice. They've waited for the bats, the pitching and the luck to be there for two straight games.
Monday, a single bolt of lighting proved to be anything but providential for the Reds. It turned what could have been a two-out rally into an 83-minute rain delay, after which the pitching was there, yes, but the bats were not. The Reds once again failed to win consecutive games as they lost to the Pirates, 2-0, at PNC Park.
It has been more than a month since the Reds swept the Dodgers on June 13-15, their last stretch of consecutive wins. They have gone 10-16 since -- from four games above .500 to two games under -- and now trail the first-place Pirates by four games.
The game began after a 55-minute delay and the Reds looked to take an early lead in the top of the first. Drew Stubbs was hit by a pitch and went to third when Zack Cozart followed him with a single; Cozart advanced when Joey Votto grounded out. Brandon Phillips struck out, then Pirates starter Charlie Morton intentionally walked Jay Bruce to load the bases.
Miguel Cairo came to the plate with the weather threatening once again. With the count at 1-2, a huge lightning strike caused fans to run for cover and Cairo to call a timeout, at which point the umpiring crew halted play. The grounds crew rolled out the tarp and it began raining moments later.
"When I saw the lightning and the thunder, I just backed off and the umpire said, 'That's enough,'" Cairo said. "I didn't make the call."
The game resumed after 83 minutes, with Morton still on the mound and Cairo still at the plate. He fouled off one pitch before grounding into a fielders' choice.
"I'm glad that we stopped them from scoring," said Pirates shortstop Chase d'Arnaud, who made an acrobatic play to get the final out of the first. "They probably would have scored two runs right there. We all came in and were pumped, and that got the momentum going in our favor. We took advantage of that."
Before the game, Reds manager Dusty Baker couldn't point to a specific reason for the team's inconsistency, but he said solving it was No. 1 on the team's agenda. After the game, though, Phillips suggested a reason: the team's lack of hitting with runners in scoring position.
Since the All-Star break, the Reds have gone 5-for-34 with runners in scoring position. On Monday, they were 0-for-7.
"I feel like that's the reason we're losing these games," Phillips said. "Our pitching staff is doing their job. [Dontrelle Willis], he pitched real good today. We just didn't come through for him. We just couldn't get it done, period."
Willis, who like his team has been searching for consistency, was the one constant for the Reds on Monday -- in his second start since joining the club from Triple-A, he allowed two runs over 4 2/3 innings, an outing shortened because of the rain delay. He struck out five and walked one.
"I had to throw some pitches and stay warm because of the weather," Willis said. "I felt good mechanically. The first time in a long time, mechanically."
Willis did not throw a pitch before the first rain delay, but he had to log several innings' worth of warmup work during the delay. The left-hander faced just one Pirate over the minimum in the first three innings, but they got to him the second time through.
d'Arnaud and Neil Walker led off the fourth with back-to-back singles. d'Arnaud raced to third on Walker's single, drawing a throw, which allowed Walker to go to second. Both scored, on a groundout and a sacrifice fly.
Morton pitched through the fifth inning and allowed just three hits. The Reds got two men on base in the second inning on a single by Willis and a walk to Stubbs, but they again couldn't take advantage. Cincinnati left a total of nine men on base.
"When you're playing against a team that has good pitching, you have to play good fundamental baseball so it doesn't come back to haunt us like it did tonight," Baker said. "It's hard to win when you don't score."
While Baker continued his search for an answer, his second baseman was sure about how the club will be able to right the ship and stay in the tight NL Central race.
"Once we start hitting with runners in scoring position, I feel like no team can really beat us," Phillips said. "We're getting on base, our pitchers are doing their job, and we're just not coming through with runners in scoring position. That's the only thing I think it is."
Laura Myers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.