PITTSBURGH — Sometimes you win a game you probably have no right winning. The Reds did that Tuesday. How do you explain allowing 20 base runners, including seven walks, yet still coming away with a 6-5 victory against Pittsburgh?
Todd Frazier’s mammoth home run off of Pirates closer Jason Grilli leading off the ninth inning provided the winning margin but it wasn’t until Chris Heisey caught Clint Barmes’ fly ball against the wall in left field with runners on first and second that a marathon game that lasted nearly four hours ended. If this game had been in Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park instead of the more spacious PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Heisey would have had no choice but watch the ball fly into the stands for a home run.
Instead, Aroldis Chapman got his 12th save of the season and the Reds pulled to within one game of .500, a winning percentage they’ve reached just twice this season. The last time was on April 24 when they left their previous trip to PNC with an 11-11 mark after winning three out of four games. They’ve now won three of the first four games of this six-game road trip and five of their last six games overall.
"Right when it was hit I thought I had a good chance but as I was going back I thought I was going to run out of room," said Heisey. "Fortunately enough for us it stayed in the yardâ¦ It’s nice to start stacking up some wins and getting some momentum because it’s been tough so far for us to get momentum. We’re zeroing in on .500 and then hopefully once we get there we’ll take off."
It’s the second time in four games the Reds have given up a multiple-run lead in the seventh only to come back in win with a run in the ninth inning. Last Friday in Milwaukee the Reds led 5-1 in the seventh inning before the Brewers rallied to tie the game. Billy Hamilton drove in Zack Cozart with the winning run that night off of Milwaukee closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Frazier had left five runners on base in his first three at-bats before an infield single in the seventh preceded his 16th home run of the season in the ninth. Grilli’s first two pitches were off-speed. Frazier said he was looking for a fastball. He got it.
"I was hoping I could hit it hard. That’s basically all I try to do, to hit the ball hard," said Frazier. "The pitching staff has been doing it for us all year and we want to help them out as well. It’s a team game. Hopefully this can kick-start us into being that dominant team we know we can be."
The Pirates had runners in scoring position in eight straight innings after Reds starter Johnny Cueto set them down in order in the first inning. They left 13 runners on base.
Cueto threw consecutive complete games against the Pirates in April, allowing just one run on six hits in the 18 innings. He struck out 12 in the first game at GABP on April 16, a 4-0 shutout, then let the defense play behind him by getting 16 groundouts in a 4-1 complete game at PNC on April 22.
The Johnny Cueto on Tuesday night was not that Johnny Cueto. After the impressive first inning, Pittsburgh scored twice on seven hits and four walks against Cueto in the next five innings. He had just two strikeouts while equaling his season high with 119 pitches thrown. It was the first time in 15 starts this season that Cueto has had more walks than strikeouts.
"I battled a lot. I didn’t think I was going to be able to throw even one inning tonight. I didn’t feel good at all. I battled every inning," said Cueto through interpreter Tomas Vera. "As soon as I got in the bullpen I didn’t get the feeling. I wasn’t feeling good, but thank God. Thank God that I was going forward and I was able to do what I did because I didn’t feel good at all today."
Cueto leads the NL with 108 innings pitched this season but he hasn’t been his sharpest since tossing a complete game against San Diego on May 15. In the six starts since he’s pitched more than six innings just twice as opposed to going at least seven innings in each of his first nine starts. He allowed just 10 runs in those first nine starts but has given up 18 in his last six starts.
Most people would take that but most people aren’t Cueto.
Still, neither he nor his manager sound concerned.
"I feel the same. I keep working hard and I keep feeling the same way," said Cueto. "When you get on the mound, you don’t think about those things. You don’t think about how many innings. All that I think when I get in there is that I want to throw nine innings."
Bryan Price echoed his ace.
"He’s going to make 33-to-34 starts and he’s going to have starts where he’s not sharp," said Price. "All he did those first 10 or 11 starts is pitch like everyone hopes all of their guys would pitch. There’s 29 other clubs that wish they had got that type of performance. He wasn’t throwing a ton of innings because his pitch count was high. He was throwing a ton of innings because he was pitch efficient. He’s like anyone else; he’s going to have periods of time where he’s not as crisp. I’m not worried about that."