He retired the first two Cubs in the first, then filled the bases on a single, double and a walk. He escaped when right fielder Aristides Aquino chased down a scorching line drive at the wall walloped by Jason Heyward.
And that’s how the night went, a nail-chewer for Mahle. He didn’t pitch a 1-2-3 inning until the fifth.
“I thought I was going to have to scratch and claw to get through five or maybe even four,” said Mahle after his eighth win. “That was probably the grindiest game I’ve ever been a part of.
“To go six innings, forget about the no runs, just to go six innings was great,” he added. “I wouldn’t have done it without our defense. Aquino made a couple of amazing plays and Jonathan India made a play to save a run, too. That was incredible. Something like today was just a relief because I was grinding and couldn’t find anything.”
Manager David Bell wasted no time using two of his newest bullpen trinkets, Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson, acquired late Tuesday night from the New York Yankees.
Cessa made his Reds debut in the seventh and breezed confidently through a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout.
Wilson made his Reds debut in the eighth by walking the first batter he faced on four pitches. But he got things in order quickly by retiring the next three, including a strikeout of Kris Bryant.
“The game opened up for us to be able to get them in there,” said Bell. “It was nice to have a lead and get them in there and get comfortable with their new team and new surroundings.”
Offensively? Ho-hum. The story was Votto, Votto and more Votto. He began the Reds scoring by leading off the second inning with a home run and he struck again with a two-run rip in the ninth.
What’s new? Those makes seveh home runs in the last five games. He tied a club record, held by nine players, with a home run in five straight games. And Votto has reached base in 22 straight games.
His five home runs in the first three games of the series leaves him one short of the most home runs in a series at Wrigley Field — six by Matt Carpenter and Jose Abreu. And he has more chances Thursday afternoon during the conclusion of the four-game series.
What Votto is doing comes when he is 38, but he is playing with the enthusiasm, energy and efficiency of an 18-year-old collegian. His last seven hits are home runs.
Asked if he has ever had a stretch like this one, Votto said, “Maybe not on homers, but I’ve had really good stretches offensively, getting on base a lot, extra base hits, lots of hits. Homers-wise, this is the best stretch I’ve been on in a short period of time.
“I want to play well and help the team to move on to big things,” he said. “This is the time of year when we have to stack as many wins as possible.
“I’ve been here many times in my career — never done it with home runs,” he said. “So it’s a little bit of a new experience. This is going to end at some point, but there is no reason I can’t be doing things in other ways.”
The Reds made it 2-0 in the third on Jesse Winker’s double, his first of two doubles on this night. Winker has extra base hits in four straight games.
They pushed the lead to 4-0 in the fith on India’s single, Winker’s double and a two-run double by Tyler Stephenson.
The lead reached 5-0 in the eighth when Shogo Akiyama was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Votto’s two-run homer in the ninth was part of a three-run inning that sent scads of Cubs fan scurrying for the exits.
They missed the excitement of the Cubs scoring two runs in the ninth off Ryan Hendrix.
The win was Cincinnati’s sixth in the last seven meetings with the Cubs and kept them within seven games of the Milwaukee Brewers, who beat Pittsburgh, 7-3, Wednesday afternoon.