By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds scratched, scraped, scrapped and scrambled all game long Wednesday night in Great American Ball Park against the Chicago Cubs.
And there was a positive payoff, a huge reward. The night ended in spectacular fashion in the bottom of the 10th when Yasiel Puig lobbed a bases-loaded single to the right center wall, a 6-5 victory and the first walk-off win for the Reds this season.
And as an added bonus, it was only Cincinnati’s second extra-inning win against four losses. Instead of falling 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Cubs, the Reds climbed to 7 1/2 back in the National League Central.
Claiming this victory was a tough rescue mission. The Reds trailed 2-1, 3-1, 3-2, 4-2, 4-3, 5-3 and tied it in the eighth on Eugenio Suarez’s two-run home run.
The victory was absolution for Joey Votto and Yasiel Puig. Votto was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts when he came to bat in the eighth and the Reds down, 5-3. He singled and Suarez homered.
With one out in the 10th, Votto walked and took third on Suarez’s single, although the ball arrived ahead of him and bounced away from the third baseman. Suarez took second on the throw and the Cubs walked Jesse Winker intentionally to fill the bases.
And Puig, 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, sent everybody home, more than half of them Cubs fans who turned Great American Ball Park into a blue lagoon.
Said Puig, after spending a half an hour immersed in ice in a training room tub, “When he walked Jesse Winker I just wanted to do my best and make contact. Finally, I made contact and won the game.
“We are hitting, the pitching has been amazing and the bullpen has been amazing and we have a chance to win more games,” he said. “I didn’t hit the ball the first three ABs (all strikeouts), but that’s baseball and it’s a little crazy sometime.
“I followed (Chicago’s) Javy Baez because he was striking out (four times) before he got a hit,” said Puig. “I was striking out and I got the winning hit. That’s a little funny.
Puig mentioned the much-utilized bullpen after Reds manager David Bell followed starter Sonny Gray with six relief pitchers who held the Cubs to two runs and four hits over five innings.
“There were so many good things that happened in that game,” said Bell. “We kept getting down and the guys just continued to compete. It got late in the game and we kept finding a way to compete. Guys came up with big at bats when we were down and the next thing you know we have a chance to win.”
Of Votto and Puig rising from the ashes early in the game to play major parts in the victory, Bell said, “The (last two) at bats by Joey and the at bat by Puig shows a lot of toughness and why they are who they are.”
For $20 million this season, Japanese-born pitcher Yu Darvish has given the Cubs two wins, three losses and a 5.40 earned run average.
And in 36 2/3rd innings he had walked 33 and given up eight home runs.
So the Reds figured they would lace up their hitting shoes when Darvish took the mound for the Cubs.
Didn’t happen. Walks? None. Home runs? None.
As do so many struggling pitchers have done against the Reds this season, Darvish turned into a whirling dervish while holding the Reds to three runs, five hits, walking none, giving up no home runs and striking out 11.
But he used up 102 pitches to get the first out of the sixth inning and was taken down, enabling the Reds to attack the Cubs bullpen.
Reds starter Sonny Gray is still 0-and-4 after giving up a two-out, two-run home run to Addison Russell in the second and a two-out solo home run to Albert Almora Jr., in the fourth.
Darvish and the Cubs bullpen made the leads stand up for most of the game, although the Reds closed to within 3-2 once and 4-3 once, only to have Middletown native Kyle Schwarber drill a two-out home run in the eighth off David Hernandez for a 5-3 lead.
But Suarez rose to the occasion in the eighth and Puig put the punctuation mark on it in the 10th.
The Reds scored first when Nick Senzel singled to open the bottom of the first, stole second, took third on a passed ball and scored on Eugenio Suarez’s one-out double.
Suarez, though, didn’t score because Jesse Winker grounded to second and Yasiel Puig struck out.
Gray gave up a two-out single to Albert Almora Jr. in the second and Addison Russell, activated just a week ago after a 40-game suspension for domestic abuse, homered to make it 2-1.
Almora’s homer in the fourth gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead and the Reds trimmed it to 3-2 in the bottom of the fourth on Derek Dietrich’s two-out single and Jose Iglesias’ stinging double to right center.
A throwing error by shortstop Iglesias in the seventh on Russell’s ground ball led to a run on pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso’s sacrifice fly and a 4-2 Cubs lead.
Iglesias giveth and Iglesias taketh away. He retrieved the run he gave the Cubs by leading the seventh with a home run, cutting Chicago’s lead to 4-3.
Schwarber’s home run off Hernandez in the eighth put the Cubs back ahead by two again, setting the stage for Suarez.
Joey Votto led the eighth with a single and Carl Edwards Jr. took the mound. He slipped behind Suarez 2-and-0 before Suarez unloaded his team-leading 13th home run to tie it, 5-5.
That set it all up for Yasiel, or as Jesse Winker calls him, “Puiginatti.”