McCoy: Start of a playoff push? Reds sweep doubleheader from Pirates

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Cincinnati Reds knew it would behoove them to sweep Monday’s doubleheader against the downtrodden Pittsburgh Pirates, a necessity to keep their playoff aspirations in forward gear.

Mission accomplished as the Reds put it in overdrive to score a sweep of the two seven-inning games, 3-1 and 9-4.

The two victories lifted Cincinnati’s record to 23-26 while Pittsburgh dipped to 14-32, worst in the majors.

The first nine runs in the two games scored by the Reds came via home runs and, in fact, at one point Cincinnati scored 21 straight runs against the Pirates on home runs.

The Reds hit five during the two games in Great American Ball Park — one in each game by Joey Votto, plus blasts by Tyler Stephenson, Brian Goodwin and Mike Moustakas.

The Big Blows were by Stephenson in Game One and Moustakas in Game Two.

Stephenson, a rookie catcher, ended Game One dramatically, a walk-off rip. Sent up as a pinch-hitter with two outs and rookie Garcia on base after a a two-out single in a 1-1 game, Stephenson ended festivities with a no-doubt deep drive to left center.

In Game Two, the Reds trailed, 4-3, in the fifth when Moustakas unloaded a three-run explosion into the right-field seats.

In the first game, Pittsburgh starter Cody Ponce gave up one hit and one run over four innings, but he was removed after four and only 63 pitches.

That one hit was a first-pitch home run by Votto, leading off the fourth, the Reds first hit.

When the Pirates tied it in the top of the seventh, the first two Reds made outs in the bottom of the seventh and it looked as if it would go extra innings.

But Garcia singled off left hander Sam Howard and manaager David Bell, celebrating his birthday, made a bold move by taking down Shogo Akiyama to send up the right-handed Stephenson.

The game ended on the second pitch, a drive over the left-field fence to ignite a home plate celebration.

The Pirates showed why the are the Pirates in the first two innings.

They put two runners on base in each of the first two innings against Trevor Bauer and didn’t come close to scoring.

They had two on with one out in the first and Bauer struck out Colin Moran and Josh Bell.

They put two on with no outs in the second. But Bryan Reynolds was caught trying to steal third and Bauer struck out Cole Tucker and John Ryan Murphy.

A couple of opportunities like that is all you’re going to get against Bauer.

After Kevin Newman reached on Eugenio Suarez’s error with one out in the second, Bauer cranked the volume to high.

He retired the next 14 in a row, nine via strikeouts. But, just three outs from a one-hit shutout, Bauer gave up a game-tying home run to Colin Moran, a home run that barely cleared the wall and landed in the first row of the right field bleachers to tie it, 1-1.

Two of the next three Pirates singled and with one out Raisel Iglesias was brought in. He preserved the tie by striking out pinch-hitter Gregory Polanco and John Murphy, who is 0 for 9 with nine strikeouts against the Reds this season.

And that set up Stephenson’s dramatic finish.

Bauer, wearing a pair of orange spikes with black stripes in honor of the Cincinnati Bengals, gave up one hit in six innings and left after 6 1/3 with a work sheet of one run, four hits, two walks and 12 strikeouts.

Of the home run to Moran, Bauer said, “I picked the wrong pitch in that situation. Iggy did a great job of coming in for me in the seventh and shutting it down.”

Bauer said he was replaying his outing in the dugout with pitching coach Derek Johnson when Stephenson went to the plate.

“I was standing next to D.J., just hating my life for giving up that homer, overanalyzing everything about it,” said Bauer. “Then Garcia got that single and Stephenson was walking up the steps to hit and I said, ‘C’mon kid, let it rip.’ And he hit the crap out of that ball.”

In limited playing time Stephenson has made an impact. His first major league hit was a home run, he threw out Billy Hamilton trying to steal and crushed a walk-off home run.

“His (Howard) first pitch was a cutter/slider down,” said Stephenson. “The next pitch was elevated and sure enough I didn’t miss it.”

The degree of difficulty to do what Stephenson did is off the charts, but he said, "I was under the stands hitting in the cages the whole game so I was loose and ready.

“Freddy (Benavides) told me I was going to hit if Garcia got on,” he said. “He told me and sure enough the next pitch Garcia got a single and I had to tug my (batting) gloves on walking up to the plate.” After the ball settled over the fence Stephenson said to himself as he circled the bases, “Did that just happen? Everything that has happened this year. . .I just can’t imagine what has happened.”

Even as important as this home run was, it only ranks second on Stephenson’s short time. “I’ll go with my first at bat (homer), then this one and then Billy,” he said.

In the second game, the Reds led, 3-2, until Pittsburgh rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes ripped a two-run home run off Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani.

In the bottom of the fifth, Akiyami drew a leadoff walk and with two outs Eugenio Suarez walked. Moustakas received a 2-and-0 fastball from left-handed Nick Turley and crash-landed it into the right field seats for a 6-4 margin.

Pittsburgh relief pitcher Geoff Hartlieb aided the Reds' cause in the sixth by giving up three runs without a hit. He hit a batter, walked three straight to force in a run and shortstop Erik Gonzalez made an error to let in another run.

Hartlieb then threw a wild pitch to let in a third run. When he walked Votto, his nightmarish inning was over after a hit batsman, four walks and a wild pitch.

And the Reds were in celebratory mode while the nightmarish Pirates season drones on, with two more games in Cincinnati.

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