CINCINNATI -- Reflecting prior to Wednesday night's game on four straight losses by a total of six runs, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle raised a glass in toast to his dogged team and saw it half-full."We're a pitch, a play, a hit away from getting hot," he said. The Pirates are still looking, and they are still cold. A.J. Burnett allowed two runs on a pair of outs, and it was enough to doom the Bucs to a 2-1 loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park, the team's season-long sixth in a row, although they remained 2 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race. Five of those losses have been by a total of seven runs. In getting swept here, the Bucs out-hit the Reds in each game, after having hit the Queen City with a record of 50-9 when having an advantage in the hit column. "I tried to keep us as close as I could, and hope we would strike," Burnett said. "Homer [Bailey] didn't allow us to. He showed up and threw the ball very well." Bailey, the Reds right-hander, pitched six-hit ball for seven innings. He made 116 pitches, and none of the other 115 were as effective as his pitchout to spoil a suicide-squeeze in the the sixth inning of a 1-1 tie. So the Pirates still searched for that difference-maker, again coming up short on all three. The pitch: Ryan Ludwick hammered it for a leadoff double in the sixth inning of a 1-1 tie, scoring minutes later on Scott Rolen's sacrifice fly. "They got the right outs to move him around. What can you do?" Burnett said, with a light shrug. "It was a well-pitched game on Homer's side; he came out and attacked us, and did a great job to make those runs stand up." The play: The blown-up squeeze bunt after Alex Presley had tripled with one out in the top of the sixth. Clint Barmes reached to still get to the down-and-away delivery, but couldn't make contact. "I still came close to it," Barmes said. "But when I lunged, my top hand came off the bat, and the barrel dipped." "We tried to scratch out a run," Hurdle said. "Good call by them." Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker was asked whether he was just guessing. "Something like that," Baker said. However, it was an educated guess. "They're known to squeeze sometimes, just a matter of when," Baker elaborated. "It looked like Homer's foot got stuck. Usually a pitch-out is up and away, and that ball was down and away. That was a very tough pitch for [catcher Ryan] Hanigan to handle. He's expecting a ball up. That was a great job, and that was the difference in the game tonight." The hit: Gaby Sanchez's barely foul homer with two on in the fourth. "We were doing a lot of screaming and blowing in the dugout," Hurdle said. "It didn't seem to help." Sanchez did single on the next pitch to drive in the Bucs' only run of the night, but a big hit would've made the difference. Burnett's big challenge in the sixth: Keep the Reds quiet, to keep the top of the inning from haunting his team. He couldn't quite do it. Ludwick led off with his double, and stepping-stoned home on a pair of fly balls -- Jay Bruce's to center and Rolen's to left for the sacrifice fly that gave the Reds the 2-1 lead. Sanchez had tied it at 1 on a fourth-inning single -- the Bucs' third straight, following hits by Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones -- and still might have felt cheated. The pitch before, he hammered a Bailey pitch high, deep -- and maybe two feet foul into the left-field corner seats. At least, the Bucs thus quickly negated the run Cincinnati had scored in the bottom of the third, on Wilson Valdez's infield grounder after Hanigan and Brandon Phillips had singled and moved up on a Burnett wild pitch. Giving up both runs on outs wasn't nearly as annoying to Burnett as the wild pitch that had enabled the first run. "In a close game, something like that definitely stands out more," he said. "It allowed those guys to advance and get in on a ground ball." In the last game Burnett pitched, the Pirates made seven errors. Wednesday night, defense time and again turned back the Reds, further testimony to baseball's vagaries. Second baseman Brock Holt, who muffed two grounders in the aforementioned Friday game against the Cubs, dove to smother Joey Votto's two-out smash with runners at the corners in the fifth and nailed the dangerous left-handed hitter at first. The previous inning, Barmes had ranged deep into the hole for Rolen's grounder and, while still moving away from his target, got off a strong throw to get him at first. With Ludwick already on base via a walk, Barmes' play cut off a growing threat. Burnett remained winless for a fifth straight start. In six innings, he allowed five hits and two runs, with two walks and eight strikeouts. In those five starts, Burnett has received a total support of seven runs.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.