No Reds starter had notched 20 or more wins since Danny Jackson pulled off the feat in 1988 when he won 23. That is still the case as Johnny Cueto‘s search for his 20th win would prove to be unsuccessful. Cueto hurled seven innings allowing three runs on six hits. He struck out 6 Pirate hitters and issued only one walk. He threw 98 pitches and 68 were strikes.
All was not lost for the Reds on this day. Not by a long shot.
Cueto would not benefit from the ninth inning heroics displayed by the Reds offense, but the team would. Heading into the top of the ninth, the Reds trailed 3-2 and were facing Bucs closer Joel Hanrahan. Surely, the Reds can’t pull off another comeback win as they had done during Thursday’s home closer, could they?
Um, they could and they did.
Pinch-hitter Xavier Paul led off the ninth with a home run off Hanrahan. Then the Pirates closer calmed down. The Reds would send Ryan Ludwick, who was supposed to start, but did not due to inclement weather at the beginning of the game, was scratched, to pinch-hit. It turned out to be the right move by acting manager Chris Speier as Ludwick would hit a double, his second pinch-hit double in his last two plate appearances. The stage was set for rookie shortstop Zack Cozart.
While most of the rookie talk has gone the way of teammate Todd Frazier (deserved talk), all Cozart has done is perform. Nothing too flashy. No, the batting average and on-base percentage aren’t what we’d like to see, but if we found out one thing about Cozart, he has guts. This moment would not escape the Memphis native as he would take a 1-1 Hanrahan offering and pull it down the third base line for his 33rd double of the season, plating pinch-runner Denis Phipps with the game-winning run.
Off to St. Louis and a reunion with manager Dusty Baker. With today’s win, the Reds guarantee themselves the home field for the NLDS since the Reds hold the tiebreaker over the Giants with a 4-3 record. With a Nationals loss to the Cards, the Reds and Nats both boast a 96-63 record. For Cincinnati to hold home field throughout the playoffs and including the World Series, they must finish a game better than the Nats as Washington won the season series, 5 games to 2.
With the loss, the Pirates are once again guaranteed a losing season as this was loss #82. Now, 20 straight years…