PITTSBURGH — The chants were inevitable. The crowd at PNC Park Tuesday night was roughly one-quarter of what was in the stands last October when Johnny Cueto had arguably the worst start of his career. It certainly was the most forgettable, unless you were a Pittsburgh Pirates fan.
The 11,926 that showed up Tuesday did their best to recreate the hysteria of that National League wild-card game between the Reds and Pirates, a game the Pirates won. Cueto reacted the only way he knew how.
Cueto responded to the chants of "Kway-toe, Kway-toe" with a smile and a check-swing strikeout of Starling Marte. He then went on toss his second consecutive complete game against the Pirates, beating them 4-1 — a much different story than the 6-2 loss last October. He was only slightly less dominating than he was six days ago in Cincinnati.
That’s the Johnny Cueto he wants people to know. That Johnny Cueto from last October was an aberration.
Before Andrew McCutchen’s one-out, solo home run in the ninth inning ended Cueto’s bid to become the first Cincinnati pitcher since Tom Seaver in 1977 to pitch consecutive shutouts, only two Pirates had gotten past first base. After getting out of two-on, one-out situation in the second inning, Cueto retired 20 of the next 22 Pittsburgh batters. In total, he allowed just three hits, while walking three and striking out four on 117 pitches, 73 of them for strikes. He got 16 of his outs on ground balls.
"The guy you see today, that’s Johnny Cueto. That’s normal," said Cueto through translator and Reds assistant trainer Tomas Vera. "The last time we were here, it was just another game. They won the game, well that’s it. It’s part of the past."
Cueto blanked the Pirates 4-0 last week. He struck out 12 without walking a batter and the Pirates managed just three hits off of him that day in 107 pitches. Cueto is now 15-4 lifetime against Pittsburgh, including 9-2 at PNC Park. He has failed to go at least five innings just once in 23 regular season starts against Pittsburgh. Tuesday was his eight career shutout. Half of them have come against the Pirates.
McCutchen’s home run snapped an overall 21-inning scoreless streak for Cueto this season and a streak of 25 2/3 innings in the regular season against the Pirates dating back to last season.
That’s the Johnny Cueto he wants people to know.
"I didn’t think he was as sharp today but he had a very similar outcome," said Reds manager Bryan Price. "This is our ace. This is our number one guy who has thrown a great game, who really wants to be in there. I have a lot of faith and trust in Johnny Cueto getting that last out."
Cueto is now 2-2 with a 1.38 ERA to start the season.
Cueto surpassed 1,000 innings for his career when he got through the sixth. He’s the first pitcher to get his first 1,000 career innings while playing for the Reds since Tom Browning did so in 1989. He’s pitched at least seven innings in all five of his starts this season, and he’s done so while usually facing one the opposing team’s top pitchers. His counterparts on the mound have been Adam Wainwright of St. Louis, Dillon Gee of the New York Mets, David Price of Tampa Bay and now Pittsburgh’s Francisco Liriano and Edison Volquez.
The Reds have scored just 12 runs total in his five starts and only nine during the 39 innings he’s pitched. Volquez, a former teammate and close friend, was shutting the Reds out on one hit until they got a pair of runs in the seventh. Cueto helped himself out with a RBI single in the ninth inning to provide the Reds with their final run of the game.
This Johnny Cueto doesn’t worry about how much run support he gets. He just wants the ball.
"Always my mind is set to throw at least seven, eight innings," said Cueto. "It feels really good when you do it."