CINCINNATI – The Reds really needed a win Tuesday night.
Really, really needed one. Really, really needed their ace to deliver, too.
They got it — got all of the above — and with a flurry of offense they were even able to exhale late. They just couldn’t share many high-fives and hugs because of a flu bug making its way around the clubhouse.
And that’s what made Johnny Cueto’s dominant, complete-game performance even more important.
The Battle of Ohio started with a 7-1 Reds victory over the Indians. Cueto struck out seven, the Reds pounded out 13 hits and a tired bullpen rested.
The Reds were sick — and not just sick of losing. They came in having lost two straight series, two straight games and five of their last seven games overall. To make matters more complicated, two regulars were scratched due to flu-like symptoms, All-Star Joey Votto was far from 100 percent and manager Dusty Baker had to push Wednesday starting pitcher Mike Leake back a day (at least) due to the bug.
Votto hit a towering, two-run home run in the seventh to push the lead to a much more comfortable 4-1, but Cueto was the star. He even got a hit and scored the Reds’ first run in the third, and in the bottom of the eighth he drew a standing ovation from the crowd after sprinting down the first base line while trying to beat out a bunt.
He stayed in the game in the ninth, even after Baker made a visit to check on him.
That drew a bigger ovation. The fans knew the Reds needed this one, too.
“He was what your ace was supposed to be tonight,” Baker said. “Your ace is supposed to stop bad streaks. Johnny is a big-time competitor. He got a hit, scored the run first run for us, he battled. He’s one of the best competitors I’ve been around.
“He was throwing as well at the end of the game as he was at the start of the game. That’s old-school conditioning.”
The Indians struck immediately, with Shin Soo-Choo leading off the game with a double and scoring on a hard-hit single from Jason Kipnis two batters later. But Cueto took over from there. He retired 21 of the last 24 Indians he faced and didn’t walk a batter all night.
He’s now 7-3 on the season. One win was on Opening Day, and four of his victories have followed a Reds loss.
“Especially with the way the bullpen has struggled of late, we needed this from Johnny,” Baker said. “Especially coming off of an off day, and a couple losses and starting a stretch of nine straight days with games, that’s the way you want to start a game like that.
“Johnny has learned how to train and take care of himself. He was tireless.”
The win puts the Reds back in first place, too, by a game over the Pirates and three over the Cardinals. It’s still way too early for that to really matter, but winning the big ones — the really important ones — is a great way to play some really important ones in September. Getting top performances from your best players, like Cueto and Votto, in such situations is another positive sign.
Votto also had an RBI single despite having to skip batting practice and convince Baker he was healthy enough to play.
“Joey was sick too,” Baker said. “He was exhausted. When I see Joey’s head down, I know something’s wrong.”