Unassuming Leake keys Reds win

Leake allowed the Pirates three runs on five hits while equaling a career-high with eight strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings.

David Kohl/David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI — Mike Leake is an unassuming figure. Put him up against the likes of a Jonathan Broxton and, well, one is a little more intimidating than the other.

If people haven’t figured it out yet, it’s not good to judge Leake no matter where he is on the baseball field.

Leake’s performances on the pitching mound and in the batter’s box Tuesday were instrumental in the Reds ending a five-game losing streak against Pittsburgh, 7-5. Leake allowed the Pirates three runs on five hits while equaling a career-high with eight strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings. He added a double and his third career home run in three at-bats, scoring a pair of runs in the process.

Maybe the people at Topps know what they’re doing. Although Leake’s main job is to get batters out the company has a picture of Leake swinging the bat on the front of his trading card this year.

"Even though it came off my worst year hitting — that’s kind of bad timing on their part — but it’s still pretty cool," said Leake.

Leake is all of 5-10, 190 pounds according to the Reds roster. He’s still just 26 years old but this is already his fifth season in the major leagues. He’s pitched in just two minor league games in his career. He may not be the No. 1 or No. 2 guy in the rotation. He might not be the power pitcher who can throw 97 mph but what he’s got is guile, command, more power than one might expect and a competitive streak to match.

He started off the game by striking out the side in the first inning, getting Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen swinging and Travis Snider looking but how he handled the fourth inning showed more about him than any other spot in the game.

Leake had scored to tie the game 1-1 in the bottom of the third, coming home on an RBI single by Joey Votto after doubling to lead off the inning. The Pirates responded with singles by McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez to start the fourth, giving them runners on the corners and no one out.

Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin bounced the ball right back at Leake. Leake was willing to let McCutchen score in trade for what should have been an easy double play. Instead, his throw went high in between shortstop Zack Cozart and second baseman Brandon Phillips and into center field. The Pirates had the lead back at 2-1 plus runners at first and third with no one out.

Leake and Reds defense made sure that would be all the Pirates got in that situation. Votto came home with a throw following a chopper to him at first base by Neil Walker, getting Alvarez caught up in a run down before third baseman Todd Frazier tagged him out. Leake then got Gaby Sanchez and Jordy Mercer to fly out to contain the damage.

Down 2-1 kept the Reds in the game.

"My job is to keep the other team as minimized as possible," said Leake. "Fortunately it turned out to where the damage that was going to be done was done and nothing more. It was nice I was able to get out of that and not be able to give them that third run early in the game."

Leake’s two-run homer to left field off of Pittsburgh starter Gerrit Cole with two outs in the sixth inning proved to be crucial. Frazier had hit his second two-run homer in as many games earlier in the inning to put the Reds in front, 3-2, but Leake’s homer gave himself some cushion.

As it turned out, the Reds needed that cushion. Pittsburgh got a run back in the seventh inning and had the potential go-ahead run at the plate when Leake’s night came to an end after 110 pitches. Manny Parra got pinch-hitter Jose Tabata to line out to Frazier to end the Pittsburgh threat.

Broxton finally ended the game by getting McCutchen to pop out to Phillips after an eight-pitch at-bat with two runners on base.

"I really tried to hold it down for Leakey. The way he threw the ball today was unbelievable," said Broxton, who got his first save in his first save chance of the season. "(McCutchen) hits me pretty well. I was just trying to keep the ball down and somehow get him to get his self out."

The win gives the Reds a chance to do something they’ve yet to accomplish this season: win a series. They’ve dropped two out of three in each of their first four series this year. They can give Leake a lot of thanks for this opportunity.