By HAL McCOY
The magic carpet ride for the Cincinnati Reds continues skimming along atop the clouds, oblivious to anything negative tossed their way.
On Wednesday afternoon in Sun Trust Park, the Reds beat the Atlanta Braves, 6-5, to take the series two games to one.
—They did it despite losing Joey Votto in the first inning when he doth protest too much on a called third strike and was ejected by umpire Carlos Torres.
—They did it despite starter Luis Castillo retiring the first 11 Braves in order, then suffering total collapse in the fifth inning when he gave up a walk, five straight singles and four runs.
—They did it despite trailing the National League East’s first place team, 5-3, with two outs in the seventh inning.
How did they do it? The same way they’ve done it so often during this uplifting run of nine wins in 10 games and 12 wins in 15 games.
They did it with just-in-time hitting and always-on-time relief pitching.
The Reds took a 2-0 lead early in the game against Atlanta left hander Sean Newcomb, who entered the game 8-and-2 with a 2.59 earned run average.
They scored a run in the second on a walk to Adam Duvall and singles by back-up catcher Curt Casali and Billy Hamilton. Jose Peraza’s leadoff home run in the third made it 2-0.
Meanwhile, Castillo was mowing down the Braves like blowing down cardboard cutouts. He retired the first 11 in order, doing a sharp imitation of one of his mentors and fellow Dominican from the same hometown, former Reds star pitcher Mario Soto. He threw only 33 pitches in the first three innings.
Castillo retired the first two batters in the fourth — two outs and nobody on. He quickly jumped ahead of Freddie Freeman 0-and-2. Then wheels went flying in all directions.
Freeman fouled off seven pitches and on the 11th pitch of the at bat Castillo walked him. What followed was total unraveling, like a kitten playing with yarn.
The next five Braves all singled, the last four each plating a run to push Atlanta in front, 4-2. After throwing 33 pitches in the first three innings, Castillo threw 37 in the fourth inning.
The Reds retrieved one of the runs in the fifth inning on Jose Peraza’s triple and Brandon Dixon’s single as the replacement for Votto.
So it was 4-3 and manager Jim Riggleman permitted Castillo to go back out for the fifth. He gave up an infield hit on a slow roller to Ender Inciarte and hit Danny Santana with a pitch. That was it for Castillo.
After retiring the first 11, eight of the next nine Braves reached base. Inciarte eventually scored on an error by third baseman Eugenio Suarez and the Braves led, 5-3.
That was it for the day as the Reds bullpen pulled a black sheet over their eyes the rest of the way.
And the offensive machine that is now the Reds went to work in the seventh inning against Atlanta’s major Achilles heel — the bullpen.
They brought in left hander Sam Freeman because starter Newcomb was over 100 pitches. He invited the impending disaster by walking Scott Schebler to start the seventh.
He struck out Peraza and pinch-hitter Alex Blandino and was one out away from preserving the 5-3 lead. It didn’t happen.
Eugenio Suarez singled and the implacable Scooter Gennett singled for a run, cutting Atlanta’s lead to 5-4. That brought up Adam Duvall, the maestro of the big hit. With the Braves shifted to the left, Duvall poked a two-run single to right and the Reds led, 6-5. Despite his .205 batting average, Duvall is near the top of the National League with 46 RBI.
Kyle Crockett, David Hernandez, Jared Hughes and Raisel Iglesias kept the slate clean.
Hernandez struck out the side in the seventh. When he gave up a leadoff bloop single to Kurt Suzuki to open the eighth, Riggleman brought in his ground ball machine. Jared Hughes and his diving sinker lead the world in inducing double plays and he did it again, coaxing a 6-4-3 out of Charlie Culberson. All that remained was for closer Raisel Iglesias to do his thing and he did it in 1-2-3 fashion in the ninth for his 15th save.