Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle knows the margin for error for his surprising club is small. Really small.
Too small, it turns out, to survive a pair of defensive miscues when facing maybe the hottest pitcher in the game.
The Cincinnati Reds took advantage of two errors by Pittsburgh shortstop Chase d’Arnaud to pull out a 3-1 win on Wednesday and avoid a three-game sweep.
A wild throw by d’Arnaud to start the game led to the Reds ending an 18-inning scoreless drought while another in the fifth let Cincinnati get some breathing room as the Pirates fell to the defending NL Central champions for just the second time in nine games this year.
”They were two plays we need to put away,” Hurdle said. ”That basically was pretty much the difference.”
That and another stellar outing by Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto, who outdueled Pittsburgh’s Jeff Karstens in a matchup of two of the stingiest itchers in the NL.
Cueto (6-3) gave up one run on four hits in six-plus innings to shave his ERA to 1.98, good enough to edge out Karstens (8-5), who put together another typically efficient outing but was undone by a pair of unearned runs set up by d’Arnaud’s misplays.
Though Karstens fell to 1-5 in day games he refused to see the loss as a missed opportunity. Pittsburgh took two of three from the Reds despite managing just four runs in the series.
”Look on the bright side, we won the series and we take tomorrow off and we come back on Friday,” said Karstens, who needed just 77 pitches to get through seven innings. He struck out one and walked one drop his ERA to 2.28, third-best in the NL.
The series marked a solid start to a pivotal two-week stretch for the Pirates, who host St. Louis on Friday.
Their run to contention is starting to draw some serious attention and some healthy support. Over 25,000 baked in the 90-plus degree heat at PNC Park to see if Pittsburgh could pull off the sweep.
Instead the struggling Reds ended a run of futility. Cincinnati hasn’t won consecutive games in a month and fallen to the rear of the four-team Central race.
Cueto steadied the ship with another solid performance.
”What I was thinking is, `We need to win today, and I give a good game, a quality start,”’ Cueto said. ”I need to make good pitches, and the team will help me with runs and we can get a win.”
Chris Heisey and Jay Bruce had two hits apiece for the Reds, who didn’t let d’Arnaud’s defensive lapses go to waste.
The rookie made a pair of huge plays in a 2-0 win Monday. His diving stop in the hole got Pittsburgh out of a bases-loaded situation in the first inning and his first-to-third sprint in the fourth opened the door for a pair of Pittsburgh runs.
The 24-year-old sat out Tuesday’s 1-0 victory as a precaution. He didn’t exactly look comfortable upon his return. Heisey led off the game with a routine grounder that d’Arnaud threw into the stands. Heisey would later score on a sacrifice fly from Joey Votto to end Cincinnati’s longest scoreless streak in over a year.
Miguel Cairo’s sacrifice fly in the second put Cincinnati up 2-0 and, after Andrew McCutchen’s double cut the lead to one, another d’Arnaud mistake gave the Reds some breathing room in the fifth. He had trouble coming up with a two-out grounder by Cueto, extending the inning. Heisey followed with a single and the pitcher came home on a single by Edgar Renteria.
It was more than enough for Cueto, who made 11 straight quality starts, the longest streak by a Reds pitcher since Bronson Arroyo put together 13 in 2009.
”This has been the best (stretch) I have had in my career,” Cueto said.
The Pirates, who woke up in first-place for the second straight day, have ridden solid pitching and great defense to the top of the standings. They got plenty of both on Wednesday – with McCutchen, Neil Walker and third baseman Brandon Wood all turning in gems – but again failed to hit.
Pittsburgh’s only real threat came in the fourth when Neil Walker was hit by a pitch and McCutchen doubled him home. Cueto worked his way out of the jam and Pittsburgh didn’t get a runner to third the rest of the day thanks to stellar work from the bullpen.
”Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your cap,” McCutchen said. ”They pitched well today.”
Notes: Walker went hitless in three at-bats to end his 13-game hitting streak. … Cincinnati 2B Brandon Phillips was given the day off by Baker, who felt Phillips needed a breather following last week’s trip to the All-Star game. … Pittsburgh LF Jose Tabata was removed from a rehab start in Bradenton due to tightness in his left quadriceps.
Follow Will Graves on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP