Reds play a near-perfect game, nudge Pirates

By HAL McCOY

CINCINNATI — If only the Cincinnati Reds could put Monday night’s game in a bottle and put a cap on it, it could be a usable product.

They could uncap it and sell it to other teams. Or they could uncap it and use it for themselves.

THE REDS PLAYED a near-perfect game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and walked off the Great American Ball Park’s soggy turf with a 3-2 victory.

And how did they do it?

—They hit three solo home runs to furnish the offensive punch they needed — a home run to start the bottom of the first by Zack Cozart, a home run by Joey Votto in the sixth to tie it, 2-2, and a solo home run by Tucker Barnhart in the seventh that was the game-winner.

—They received stellar starting pitching from Dan Straily — six innings, two runs, four hits, three walks, four strikeouts.

—They received blemish-free bullpen work from J.C. Ramirez, Blake Wood and Tony Cingrani, one scoreless inning each.

—They received above-and-beyond defensive work from shortstop Cozart and second baseman Brandon Phillips to save the day.

CATCHER TUCKER BARNHART broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh with a two-out home run to left field. It was historic, at least in the Barnhart family. It was his first major league home run in 270 at bats dating back to May 27 of last season. And it was the first professional home run the switch-hitting Barnhart hit from the right side.

“That isn’t my game, I don’t hit homers,” he said. “I was lucky enough to square up a ball and it was at a big time for us and thankfully it held up. It is always fun to hit homers but it is even better to hit home runs and get big hits when your team needs them.”

Barnhart, a natural right hander, struggled from the right side last year and was extremely frustrated with his lack of success.

“I’ve been doing a lot of work right handed to continue to make my right and left handed swings closer together for consistency and production,” he said. “It’s getting there. I made some changes late last season and went into the off-season and built on those.

“It’s gratifying to finally feel comfortable from that side of the plate and now when I see a lefty come to the mound I’m not hanging my head and thinking, ‘I wish I was hitting left handed,’” he said. “I have confidence in both sides now.”

STRAILY PITCHED five scoreless innings on two hits until the Pirates loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth. He limited the damage by getting a sacrifice fly and a run-scoring ground ball, the only two runs the Pirates would score.

“Dan is steady,” said Barnhart. “He is not going to wow you stuff-wise. He got big outs by pounding the strike zone. He gave up two runs in the sixth, but we limited the damage that could have happened.”

Said Straily, “I’m just trying to offer some kind of consistency, stuff that doesn’t reflect in the box score. It’s filling the strike zone with quality pitches and that’ what I look for.

“I didn’t really have a strikeout pitch tonight but they kept putting the ball in play and the defense took care of it,” he added. “I’ve never had this many ground balls before (seven ground ball outs, one fly ball out).”

THEY MADE THE routine plays for Straily and he wasn’t in the game when the defense put super polish on the night.

The first play came in the eighth when the Pirates had the tying run on second with one out. Starling Marte shot one up the middle, ticketed for center field. Cozart belly-flopped, speared the ball, scrambled to his feet and threw a bullet to first to get Marte by a short whisker.

“To me that was the defensive play of the game,” said manager Bryan Price.

It might have been, but Phillips made one even better in the ninth inning with Cingrani on the mound. Cingrani gave up a first-pitch double to Jung Ho Kong and Sean Rodriguez came on to pinch-run.

Rodriguez moved to third on a ground ball to shortstop and now the tying run was on third with one out. The Reds played the infield in on the grass and Jordy Mercer stung one toward Phillips. He somehow short-hopped it off the dewy gras, looked Rodriguez back to third, and threw Mercer out at first.

Over? Not quite. The game ended on a breath-holder for the Reds. Pinch-hitter David Freese drove one to the wall in right center that Hamilton captured for the game-ending out.

“Those defensive plays are plays that win games — the plays by Cozart and Phillips —and right to the end when Billy had to go to the wall to catch that last ball,” said Price.

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