Johnny Cueto Carries the Cincinnati Reds to Victory


Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Rebounding from their loss Monday night, the Cincinnati Reds evened the series with the Pittsburgh Pirates after a 4-1 win Tuesday at PNC Park.

“CUE-TO, CUE-TO, CUE-TO!”  The same way the chorus of Pittsburgh’s finest hecklers bid adieu to Johnny Cueto last season, they began 2014 in their house with more of the same.  Thankfully for the Reds, it was a completely difference performance than that of his last time out in Pittsburgh.

Just 24 hours ago, the Reds suffered their most crushing defeat of the young season.  It seemed that pessimism reigned supreme, everywhere but in the clubhouse, of course.

On the back of Johnny Cueto, who tossed his second consecutive complete game against the Pirates, the fan base is back to doing cartwheels and wishing upon stars. 

From start to finish, it was the Johnny Cueto show.  For the first six acts (innings, shall we say), his old buddy Edinson Volquez played a tremendous Best Supporting Actor, but eventually, the Volquez of old showed.  A friendly rancor was kept between the two pitchers who seemed to take great pleasure in recording outs off the other.

Taking in the crowd, Cueto was able to laugh off his name being echoed (there were under 12,000 people at the game, so as much as one can “echo”) throughout one of the sports finer places to take in a ballgame. 

It was a single in the first from Andrew McCutchen, then another from Travis Snider in the second, and that was the extent of the Pirates offensive production until the end of the contest.  For those who believed Cueto could not repeat his performance from less than a week ago (complete game, three hits, 12 strikeouts) against this very same team, he deftly defied his critics.

At his peak, Cueto retired 13 consecutive batters, moving at a quick pace on the hill, having sensational command of all four pitches.  Although his strikeouts have been through the roof of late, he pitched to more contact tonight, only striking out four Pirates batters. 

Sans one pitch to McCutchen in the last of the ninth, Cueto was nearly perfect.  An elevated fastball that may have even been out of the zone was launched above the Roberto Clemente wall in right field to get the Bucs on the board.  The home run seemed to get under Cueto’s skin more than anything, as he fell behind Pedro Alvarez before retiring him, and walked Russell Martin.  On his last legs, he battled with Ike Davis to record the game’s final out with a cool 117 pitches.

The difference in the game was the offensive output Cueto had at his back.  Because, regardless of how dominant the San Pedro de Macoris native can be on the hill, he needs his bats to have his back.  Of course, he took matters into his own hands in the ninth and drove in his own insurance run. 

Heading into the top of the seventh inning, the Reds had one measly hit off Volquez.  Then, the floodgates opened.

Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier stung back-to-back singles to put two runners on to begin the inning.  After a Ryan Ludwick fly out that advanced the runner, Brayan Pena hit a rocket RBI single past Davis into right field.  Not known at all for his speed, Pena felt lucky and decided to dart towards second.  On the field, he was called safe after a brilliant slide that appeared to avoid shortstop Jordy Mercer’s tag.  Working in their now typical mysterious ways, the replay booth in New York overturned the call, despite the fact there was no way possible one could have had “conclusive evidence.”  After multiple dissections of the play from a litany of angles, it’s still difficult to tell whether he was safe or out.  Unlike Monday evening, the Reds did not let that slow them down.

With runners at second and third with just one out on Monday night, Zack Cozart popped up to the catcher and the Reds did not score in the inning.  Ultimately, they lost the game by a run.  On Tuesday, he dropped in an RBI double down the left field line to score Frazier, giving the Reds the extra cushion they so desperately needed. 

The barrage would continue into the eighth where Billy Hamilton would lace his second hit of the night, bringing his average up to .217, before scooting over to third on a single from Joey Votto.  Bruce brought Hamilton home with his second lined shot of the night.  Over the course of the last few games, Bruce has begun to heat up, potentially in the midst of going into one of those hot zones where he becomes an unstoppable force.

Running with Brayan Pena is one of those decisions that gets Bryan Price an immeasurable amount of praise if it works, and an inordinate amount of ridicule should it fail.  Stealing bases is an exciting venture.  Price recognizes that, he has instilled in his team the fact that everyone is going to run (although the day I see Ludwick take off, I’ll know Price has gone off the deep end), and keep the pressure on the opposing battery at a maximum.  Brayan Pena stole a base and Johnny Cueto had an RBI single in the same inning.  It’s not every day you get to read/write that, so, enjoy it for what it is.

The only starter on the Reds staff with a lower ERA than Johnny Cueto, is his good buddy, Alfredo Simon.  That’s who takes to the mound tomorrow night against Charlie Morton, the born-again sinkerball pitcher for the Pirates.  Getting underway at 7:05 P.M., the Reds will need the win to keep their hopes alive of winning the series.