CINCINNATI -- A tiny crowd finally cheered when Darnell McDonald scored from third base on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning Monday, giving the Cincinnati Reds a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a makeup game played with tennis-match silence most of the time.
Fewer than 2,000 fans showed up for the first game of a day-night doubleheader at Great American Ball Park, which turned into a red-seat echo chamber. Fans could hear the players' banter. Players could hear the fans' chatter. It didn't take long to take a head count.
"I felt like I was back in the Florida State League," said rookie Drew Stubbs, who led off the Reds' first inning with a homer. "I could hear [announcer] Jeff Brantley's voice from out on the concourse and the cars on the highway outside."
• Game 2: Reds 6, Pirates 3
Foul balls clattered around the 42,000-seat ballpark. There wasn't much competition for the T-shirts shot into the stands between innings.
"You could hear everything," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I saw one guy who was missing a finger catch a foul ball, and I could hear him say, 'That hurt like hell,' but he caught it. That's one of those days where everyone could get a foul ball and a T-shirt."
Neither of these teams has been able to get many wins this season, turning it into a matchup of the NL Central's bottom dwellers.
It ended when McDonald scored on Jesse Chavez's wild pitch with two outs in the ninth. McDonald got the first of Cincinnati's two singles off Chavez (0-4), who then skipped a pitch past catcher Jason Jaramillo. Nick Masset (5-1) got the victory with one inning in relief on an eery afternoon.
"You could hear everything," McDonald said. "I think that makes it harder to focus when you can hear individual comments."
The game originally was rained out on April 10. A lot of bad things have happened to both teams since.
The Pirates went on yet another trading spree, getting rid of most of their starters. Only Ryan Doumit and Adam LaRoche are left from the lineup that manager John Russell wrote out on that rainy April 10 night.
For the Reds, it's been all about injuries. Every starter from that game has been sidelined at some point in the season -- 18 players overall have gone on the disabled list. Joey Votto was the only mainstay left in the lineup from April.
The mood matched the moment.
When the game began, 11 fans were scattered in the upper-deck bleachers in left field, attended by two ushers. When Pirates starter Daniel McCutchen -- called up before the game and given No. 62 -- threw a 92 mph fastball for his first pitch in the majors, a fan behind the Pirates dugout yelled: "There you go!"
The next pitch was gone, a homer by Stubbs into the lower deck in left. Two fans gave chase as the ball bounced up the empty concrete aisle.
After the fourth inning, the video board showed one fan surrounded by empty seats and played Eric Carmen's All By Myself, drawing a smattering of applause and laughs from the other fans who knew the feeling.
McCutchen was glad that the crowd was small and subdued -- better to help him get through the debut jitters that started when he bolted awake at 4:30 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. He singled home a run in his first at-bat, and settled down after Stubbs' homer, lasting six innings.
"I was a little antsy, trying to block that crowd out," he said, breaking into a grin. "That's a joke there."
He had no trouble hearing shouts of encouragement from the handful of relatives who drove 13 hours overnight to sit behind the Pirates' dugout.
"I heard a few of them a few times," McCutchen said.
The loss left Pittsburgh only six shy of becoming the first major American professional team to string together 17 straight losing seasons. The Reds are nine losses from clinching their ninth straight losing season, their longest streak of futility since the 1950s.