McCoy: Gray dominant as Reds snap four-game losing streak

Right-hander strikes out 11 in 12-7 win over Cubs

The combination for the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night was the perfect mix — Sonny Gray on the mound and the return to the lineup of Mike Moustakas, Nick Senzel and Tucker Barnhart.

And the explosion was heard in Rabbit Hash, Ky., a 12-7 bone-crushing win over the Chicago Cubs. Moustakas and Senzel were granted permission by MLB to return after testing negative for the Covid-19 virus and Barnhart was back after a paternity leave.

The offensive obliteration featured a grand slam home run by Nick Castellanos during a seven-run fifth inning, plus home runs by Moustakas and Senzel.

The Reds built a 9-0 lead through six innings, then the bullpen reared its ugly head and Brooks Raley gave up five runs in the seventh.

Gray, who owns both Reds victories this season, was baseball’s version of Eliot Ness. Untouchable.

He gave up one hit, a double by Ian Happ with two outs in the fifth inning, and no earned runs. Through six innings only one other batter reached base. Anthony Rizzo was grazed on the pants by a pitch in the first inning.

He showed his competitiveness after he hit Rizzo. The two exchanged some words. Rizzo laughed. Gray didn’t.

“That was competitors competing,” said Gray. “I definitely wanted to try to ignite something. I wanted everybody to know we’re here to play tonight. We are not going to sit back and just get our butts kicked.”

Gray recorded 11 strikeouts, twice striking out the side, doing it on 11 pitches in the third inning.

He was so dominant the first 13 Cubs batters didn’t hit the ball out of the infield. His night ended with two outs in the seventh after he walked Steven Souza Jr. and Josh Phegley reached on third baseman Eugenio Suarez’s throwing error that put runners on third and second. Gray left after his 92nd pitch.

Gray furnished personal firepower and wanted his teammates to show some fire.

“I knew we needed to come out with a little more fire, a little more energy,” he said. “That was my whole thing. I was just telling the boys, ‘We’re here to play today. Let’s just go play a baseball game. Let’s go win a baseball game.”

Could the bullpen blow a 9-0 lead? They tried.

Raley replaced Gray and walked Happ on four pitches to load the bases and he hit Victor Caratini with the next pitch, forcing in an unearned run.

Niko Hoerner singled for two more runs and suddenly it was 9-5 — all five runs scoring after two outs. It wasn’t over. Raley walked David Bote on four pitches and was done. He faced five batters and all five reached base.

Lucas Sims finally came in to record the inning’s third out.

Fortunately for the Reds, the Cubs bullpen right now is worse than the Reds.

Dillon Maples started the seventh and walked four of the six batters he faced and retired none. The Reds scored three and the Cubs escaped more damage when Shogo Akiyama lined into a triple play — a liner to Kris Bryant at third. He snagged it at the ground, doubled the runner off third and fired to first to triple the runner off first.

The Reds faced Kyle Hendricks, the best the Cubs have. On Opening Day, Hendicks pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout against the Milwaukee Brewers with no walks and nine strikeouts.

There was no complete game and no shutout on this night. Hendricks lasted only 4 1/3 innings and gave up six runs and seven hits.

Hendricks kept the Reds off the board for three innings until he walked Eugenio Suarez to open the fourth.

That brought up Moustakas. The Reds grounds crew, sitting in the stands, were wearing Moose anthlers and rattling noisemakers when he stepped in.

And he delivered with a two-run home run for a 2-0 Reds lead.

“Unfortunately, in a short season, our losses are magnified,” said Moustakas. “But we have such a great clubhouse, such a great team, that we’ll compete every night and tonight we did a great job.”

After Moustakas’ home run came the raucous fifth.

It began with a hard single to right by Freddy Galvis. After Barnhart struck out, Akiyama doubled and Joey Votto was hit by a pitch to fill the bases.

Suarez dumped a two-run single into left field and it was 4-0. Moustakas walked to re-fill the bases and Castellanos unloaded them with a grand slam to left field for an 8-0 lead. And it wasn’t over. Senzel’s first hit of the season left the park, a home run to give the Reds a 9-0 working margin.

By the time the sixth inning surfaced, Cubs manager David Ross waved the white flag and sprinkled his lineup with back-up players, but Raley made it interesting for a half inning.

And to add emphasis to the Reds bullpen problems, Cody Reed gave up a two-run home run to Bote and four hits in the ninth that finished off a 19-run game that was 2-0 after three innings.

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