By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — For the first time, 23 games into the 2018 season, the Cincinnati Reds covet and caress a two-game winning streak.
And it was worth it for the few stragglers who wandered off the street and into Great American Ball Park Tuesday night and stayed the entire 4 hours and six minutes it took.
The few hundred would have been happy with the 9-7 victory over the Atlanta Braves. But they received bonus thrills.
They got 12 innings. They got Scooter Gennett hitting two home runs and executing a successful suicide squeeze play.
And Gennett’s game-winning two-run walk-off home run in the 12th came after he misplayed a hard-hit ball in the ninth inning that let in two runs to tie the game.
And they got Reds starting pitcher Tyler Mahle pitching six no-hit innings with 11 strikeouts before the third time through the Braves lineup was impassable.
Pitching practically perfect is nothing new to Mahle, a 23-year-old rookie right hander. He threw a no-hitter pitching at Class AAA Pensacola last year and he pitched a perfect game two years ago while pitching for Class A Daytona Beach.
“That’s the kind of stuff I had for the no-hitter and perfect game through six innings,” he said. “But my pitch count was higher this time and I didn’t have it in the seventh. But, yeah, you think about the no-hitter when you get through six.”
Freddie Freeman broke up the no-hitter and the shutout Tuesday to open the seventh by driving a 1-and-1 pitch into the great beyond, deep into the right center bleachers.
Nick Markakis then doubled and Kurt Suzuki homered into the left field stands, cutting what was 5-0 when the inning began to 5-3.
Mahle’s night was over and he received a standing ovation from the fans for his awesome start and for the free pizza he provided from LaRosa’s for striking out 11 Braves.
Mahle struck out two in the first, two in the second, two in the third, two in the fifth and three in the sixth.
As another added bonus, the fans got to see the first home runs of the season out of No. 3 hitter Joey Votto and No. 4 hitter Scooter Gennett, back-to-back in the seventh inning.
The Reds scored three runs in the second inning off Brandon McCarthy, he of the 3-and-0 record and 2.91 earned run average when the night began.
With two outs and nobody on in the fifth, Votto lofted an opposite field fly down the left field line that nestled into the first row of seats, his first homer and second extra base hit of the season.
Gennett followed by pulling one down the right field line that crashed against the foul pole for his first home run and a 5-0 Reds lead.
After the Braves scored three in the top of the seventh, the Reds came back with two in the bottom of the seventh on Jesse Winker’s double, Jose Peraza’s single, Gennett’s suicide squeeze bunt and Tucker Barnhart’s infield hit.
“I don’t think you’ll find too many games where a guy squeezed a run in and hit two homers,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “We were very fortunate to get out of that one.”
Atlanta’s Freeman, the no-hit wrecker, also wrecked relief pitcher Amir Garrett’s 0.00 earned run average by leading off the ninth inning with his second home run of the night. Then with one out, Kurt Suzuki singled and Preston Tucker.
That put the potential tying run in the batter’s box with one out and manager Jim Riggleman summoned closer Raisel Iglesias.
Iglesias walked Dansby Swanson to fill the bases with one out. But struck out Ryan Fletcher and walked pinch-hitter Johan Camargo on a full count. That forced in a run and put the potential tying runs at third and second and the go ahead run at first.
Then with a 0-and-2 count on Ender Inciarte, one pitch from a Reds victory, Inciarte drilled one at second baseman Scooter Gennett’s feet that skipped into right field for a two-run game-tying single.
“That game had a bad feeling to it once Atlanta came back so strong,” said Riggleman. “It is hard to win games in the ninth inning and they almost did it. I give our guys tremendous credit, because once you give it up like that it is tough to win. Sometimes it is a game of heartbreaks and it looked like it might be one of those times for us.”
And that’s where it stood, 9-9, until Gennett unloaded in the 12th.
“That’s the least I could do,” Gennett said of his home run. “I misread that ball a little bit, but live and learn. But I was able to make up for it. We played such a good game up to that point. In hindsight, I should have played back on it and chested it up for fielded it clean. But it is easy to say when you have time to think.
Gennett’s home run came off left hander Max Fried, called up Tuesday from Class AAA and making his 2018 debut. The first big league face he saw was Joey Votto and he walked him. Then after getting ahead of Gennett 1-and-2, he hung a curve ball to Gennett put it all to rest.
“I wasn’t looking for much, not trying to do too much,” said Gennett, who did more than a lot. “He throws a lot of curve balls and I was looking for something up and it worked out.”
Indeed, Fried’s pitch ended up, up, up and away into the Reds’ slim victory cupboard.