McCoy: Reds complete sweep of Pirates, move into second in NL Central

Cincinnati in playoff position with nine games to play

For the Cincinnati Reds, it was hold-their-breath all night Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And when they were finally able to exhale they owned a 1-0 victory as The Big Red Express continues to stay on track.

Luis Castillo, Archie Bradley and Raisel Iglesias strung nine goose eggs against the Pirates, enabling the Reds to win their fifth straight game.

And most importantly, when St. Louis split a doubleheader with Milwaukee, the Reds moved into a second place tie with the Cardinals in the National League Central.

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher J.T. Brubaker grew up in New Carlisle and attended Tecumseh High School — Cincinnati Reds Country — but he was not a Reds fan.

And he showed that Wednesday night with a superb pitching effort against the Reds.

Unfortunately for him and the Pirates, his opponent was Castillo on a night when Castillo was at this best ... again.

After pitching his first career complete game in his previous start against the St. Louis Cardinals, Castillo was even better Wednesday night in Great American Ball Park, although he didn’t pitch a complete game.

He held the Pirates to no runs, three hits, walked one and struck out 10 in seven innings, leaving after throwing 91 pitches.

After starting 0-and-5, Castillo has won three straight. Over those three starts he pitched 22 innings and gave up three runs and 12 hits, dipping his earned run average to 3.03. The Reds lost all seven of his first seven starts.

“Luis backed up his last start and it couldn’t get much better than that,” said Reds manager David Bell. "To come back out and pitch seven shutout innings, it’s not easy to do.

“It took a lot of effort and energy on his part to do what he did against the Cardinals,” he added. “To back that up in a big game was obviously huge for us. It’s fun, so much fun to watch him pitch and he enjoys so much what he does.”

Opposing hitters hate what he does.

And Castillo has his personal caddy, backup catcher Curt Casali, who has caught Castillo’s three victories.

“I don’t know what the magic is yet,” Castillo said with a huge smile. “The way he calls pitches, it’s all toward contact.”

When Castillo struggled earlier this season, his change-up, his best pitch, was a ghost. Just not there. Now the change-up is a ghost to hitters — it’s there but they can’t hit it.

“Earlier in the year the change-up was’t functioning the way I wanted it to,”  he said. “I worked on it in the bullpen with D.J. (pitching coach Derek Johnson) and we changed the the mechanics on the pitch and now it is back to where I want it to be.”

Bradley followed Castillo with a 1-2-3 eighth — 16 pitches, 10 strikes. Then the suddenly rejuvenated Iglesias closed it quickly with a seven-pitch perfect ninth, seven pitches, seven strikes.

Brubaker held the Reds to no runs, one infield hit and one walk for four innings.

But with two outs in the fifth, the Reds strung together three straight singles by Jose Garcia, Curt Casali and Shogo Akiyama for a run.

And the Castillo-Bradley-Iglesias triumverate made that lonely run stand up.

While the Pirates lost their seventh straight, the Reds have won seven of nine and crawled to within one win of the .500 level at 25-26.

The Pirates never had more than one runner on base and none reached third base.

Every time the Pirates put a runner on base, Castillo struck out the next one or two batters to end the inning.

Castillo gave up a one-out single in the first, but the Reds turned a double play. He gave up a two-out single to Kevin Newman in the second, then struck out Gregory Polanco.

He gave up a two-out single to Josh Bell in the fourth, but struck out Erik Gonzalez. He walked Bell with one out in the seventh, then struck out Gonzalez and Newman.

After feasting on dessert, the Pirates (losers of eight straight), the Reds go after the filet mignon in their final nine games — three at home against the Chicago White Sox beginning Friday night, three at home against the Milwaukee Brewers and three on the road against the Minnesota Twins.

Those nine games will determine whether the Reds advance to the playoffs or they retreat to their golf clubs and fishing poles.

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