And the bullpen put a lockdown on it.
The Indians came to Cincinnati carrying what appeared to be wet rolled-up newspapers in their bat bags.
The Tribe had scored just four runs in their previous five games, losing four, and most of their batting averages resembled the daily temperature on a hot August day in Arizona — most of them in the 100s.
And they were facing strong-armed Gray, who had given up one earned run while winning his first two starts this season.
The Indians, though, show no fear early against Gray.
Francisco Lindor homered with two outs in the first. Gray gave the Tribe a gift in the second with a wild pickoff throw at first, then two wild pitches that plated a run and a 2-0 Indians lead.
Gray then settle in to his La-Z-Boy recliner on the mound. The real Sonny Gray surfaced. From the third through the sixth he gave up one hit and struck out eight. But his pitch count mounted as he went to 3-and-2 on six batters.
He had to leave after 111 pitches, but for the 34th straight time he held the opposition to four runs or less.
Nick Castellanos, announced as National League Player of the Week, drew the Reds to within one run in the fourth inning with another home run, this one off Cleveland ace Zach Plesac.
Plesac was coming off eight shutout innings in his 2020 debut and was in command ... until the sixth.
Akiyama singled to open the sixth and Votto connected on a 3-and-2 fastball for the 3-2 lead.
After Plesac locked up Votto on a 3-and-1 change-up, he tried to blaze a fastball past Votto. Didn’t work.
“In that situation, you can get beat by the hardest pitch,” said Votto. “You can’t let a fastball get past you, but you have to anticipate everything. He (Plesac) has quite a few pitches in his arsenal and he is able to attack different parts of the zone. You try to put the ball in play with the intent of not hitting into a double play. I put a good swing on it and ... a good result.”
A tremendous result.
Lorenzen pitched a 1-2-3 seventh with two strikeouts. Nate Smith encountered some problems in the eighth but escaped and Iglesias pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts for his first save.
Smith hit No. 9 hitter Greg Allen to open his inning and Cesar Hernandez was credited with an infield hit on a bad-hop grounder that bounced off second baseman Freddy Galvis’ chest.
But Smith struck out Jose Ramirez. With ever-dangerous Francisco Lindor batting, Smith threw a ball in the dirt. Catcher Tucker Barnhart blocked it, kept in front of him. Instead of throwing to third, he gunned a throw to second and wiped out Hernandez.
That left the tying run on third with two outs and Smith struck out Lindor.
Barnhart also threw out Lindor trying to steal second in the sixth after a one-out single.
And Gray got the help he asked for before the game from Barnhaart.
“I texted Barnhart at about noon and said, ‘I’m gonna need you, I’m gonna need you today,’” said Gray. “I could tell I was flat and I told Tucker, ‘I’m gonna need you.‘’
Said Barnhart, “Don’t worry, you got me.”
And Gray was super appreciative of Barnhart’s laser arm and cat-like quickness behind the plate.
“What he did out there today. . .that’s two huge plays,” said Gray. “Massive. winning plays. Two turning points in the game, for sure.”
Of his night, Gray said, “You could tell, I was flat, I had no energy. I was pitching timid, I was pitching scared. For whatever reason, I just wasn’t in the moment. You are going to have days like that and you just have to overcome it, find a way to get through it.”
With Barnhart’s help, he found his way to a 3-0 record.
The Reds are on a three-game winning streak that has leveled their record to 5-5.