G-20 summit contributes to sparse crowd at PNC Park

PITTSBURGH -- President Barack Obama's motorcade passed in view of PNC Park in the eighth inning, and military helicopters buzzed over the ballpark all day. Obviously, something big was going on in Pittsburgh.

It wasn't the Reds-Pirates game, where a deserted ballpark matched the nearly deserted downtown only a bridge length away.

Bronson Arroyo limited Pittsburgh to one run over seven innings and the Cincinnati Reds completed their second sweep of the plummeting Pirates in less than a month, winning 4-1 on Thursday to push the Pirates closer to a 100-loss season.

Joey Votto had a two-run double following Drew Sutton's RBI double and Brandon Phillips singled for his 95th RBI during a four-run third inning against Charlie Morton (4-9) as the Reds won their eighth in a row against the last-place Pirates. The Reds are 15 games ahead of the Pirates in the NL Central standings after falling behind them for one day following an Aug. 22 loss.

Since then, fourth-place Cincinnati is 21-10 -- although it remains one loss away from a ninth consecutive losing season -- and Pittsburgh is 5-25. Five losses by the Pirates in their final 11 games would give them 100.

Pittsburgh, long since assured of a record 17th consecutive losing season, has lost six in a row, nine of 10 and 23 of 26 amid the franchise's worst September spinout since it went 5-22 in September 1998.

At least for the Pirates' sake, there weren't many spectators. The paid attendance was 15,892, but the turnstile count was about 3,000 as two bad teams and the G-20 summit held down the turnout. The crowd was so small that the Pirates closed PNC Park's upper deck for the first time since the 38,362-seat ballpark opened in 2001 and allowed fans to sit in the lower level.

Crowd? The players didn't notice one.

"It didn't bother me. I still have to do what I do best, and that goes for the team as well," said Lastings Milledge, whose third homer provided the Pirates' only run. "We always want a lot of fans to show up, but at the same time we have a job to do and we take a lot of pride in what we do. I didn't think it really mattered, we still tried to pay hard for the win, regardless of whether there's one fan or 30,000 in here."

At least the two teams are used to this kind of apathy. They played before even fewer spectators -- an estimated 1,000 -- during the first game of a day-night doubleheader in Cincinnati on Aug. 31.

"In a situation where the crowd is loud and it's a hostile environment, you try not to let that affect you," Morton said. "The environment should be relative. All things considered, it should be a non-issue."

Parking lots near PNC Park were open, but the Pirates said frequent warnings all week about how difficult it would be to travel into Pittsburgh during the two-day summit clearly affected attendance. Almost no traffic was permitted downtown, where many offices and businesses are closed.

The smallest turnout at PNC Park is believed to be the estimated 500 who watched an Astros-Pirates afternoon game on Sept. 28, 2006, that was delayed by heavy rain for 3 1/2 hours.

While thousands of protesters are believed to be in Pittsburgh for the G-20, there were no security issues at PNC Park, although all spectators went through metal detectors or were screened. Not long after the game ended, police threw pepper spray at a group of protesters several miles from the ballpark.

Arroyo (14-13) didn't need much help as the Reds finished off a three-game sweep in which they outscored the Pirates 26-7. He gave up five hits while striking out four and walking one.

"I didn't have very good stuff, and I was hoping to get through the first few innings and kind of catch a groove," Arroyo said.

Arroyo got the four-run inning going by beating out what would have been an inning-ending double-play grounder. The next four batters got hits.

"That shows you what hustle and speed will get for you," manager Dusty Baker said.

Arroyo, a former Pirates pitcher, has lasted at least seven innings in all 11 starts since Aug. 1, although his effectiveness is not reflected by his 4-3 record during that time.

Francisco Cordero finished up in the ninth for his 39th save in 43 opportunities despite giving up two hits.

Game notes
Votto is 13 for 25 (.520) in his last six games. ... Arroyo allowed one run in 15 innings in two starts against the Pirates. ... The Reds won the season series 11-4. They swept a four-game series in Cincinnati from Aug. 31-Sept. 2. ... The Pirates are 3-18 in September.