By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — It seemed like Mission Impossible for the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday night, an assignment against one of baseball’s best pitchers, Justin Verlander, and against one of baseball’s best teams, the Houston Astros.
They not only completed their project in Great American Ball Park, they recorded an A+ on their assignment, a 4-3 victory, their second straight one-run success over the American League West leaders.
The intimidation factor was non-existent as the Reds ripped into Verlander in the first inning for three runs — a leadoff home run by Jesse Winker and a two-run home run by Derek Dietrich.
Dietrich was 2 for 32 at the time and hadn’t hit a home run since May 28, a day during which he hit three home runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Reds made those runs stand-up behind solid pitching by Anthony DeSclafani. He stifled the Astros on one run, six hits, one walk and four strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.
—The Reds were not impressed with Verlander’s 9-and-2 record and 2.41 earned run average.
—The Reds were not impressed with Verlander’s 0.73 WHIP and the .152 that batters were hitting against him.
—The Reds were not impressed with his 24 career complete games and his eight career shutouts.
—The Reds were not impressed with Verlander’s 13 quality starts (six or more innings and three or less runs) this year and his 292 career quality starts.
—The Reds were not impressed with the fact the Astros had not lost any of their last 13 series and swept four. With wins in the first two games, the Reds have already won the series before they even play Wednesday afternoon’s game.
And the Reds have won three straight for the first time since a west coast trip May 9-11 when they won the last game in Oakland and the first two in San Francisco.
DeSclafani now has pitched three straight dead, solid and almost perfect games and admitted he was extra-pumped to face Verlander, even though he was working with less than his best stuff.
“I don’t think I had my best stuff,” he said. “My fastball had good life on it, which helped. Honestly, I like to be realistic about things. I didn’t have too much going for me tonight.
“They played defense behind me and they gave me the early lead. My slider didn’t have much depth and I felt I made good pitches when I needed them,” he said. I didn’t get ahead of hitters, but at the end of the day it is about grinding things out. So I’m just happy we got the win.”
And he did it against a great team and an even greater pitcher.
“It is definitely cool, especially to get a ‘W’ off a guy like that for our team,” DeSclafani added. “It’s huge, it’s awesome to win the series and have a chance for a sweep Wednesday. It shows how good we are. There is a lot of excitement around this team. We need to get the ball rolling with a winning streak and that’s a good team to do it against.”
Verlander held the Reds to no runs and two hits for five innings after the three-run first. Kyle Farmer ended that with a one-out home run in the seventh for a 4-1 Reds lead.
Verlander left after seven innings after giving up four runs and six hits. All six hits were for extra bases, three home runs and three doubles.
Things tensed up in the eighth when Reds relief pitcher Amir Garrett gave up a two-run home run to Alex Bregman and a single. Suddenly it was 4-3 with the tying run on first.
Manager David Bell summoned closer Raisel Iglesias at this juncture and he struck out Yuli Gurriel and Robinson Chirinos to stop the rally.
Bell pinch-hit for Iglesias, his closer, in the eighth inning and brought in Michael Lorenzen to turn the lights out in the ninth.
Lorenzen breezed through a 1-2-3 inning for his second save in successive nights against the Astros.
This doesn’t mean Iglesias is no longer the closer. It meant, on this night, that the eighth inning was more important than the ninth.
“We knew at the beginning of the (eighth) inning, if Gurriel came up, that’s where the game would be (decided),” said manager David Bell. “And we wanted Iggy in that situation. That was the game.
“We knew if we could get out of that inning we had a much better chance of winning,” Bell added. “He was the guy we wanted and we did want to save him for the ninth, an inning that might not be as important.”
That’s the way it worked out. Iglesias recorded the two shutouts, then Lorenzen got to face the bottom of the order and as Bell said, “It also helps that Lorenzen is pitching really well. Iggy came in and did his job.”
Winker pulled a foul ball home to right field, then cleared the left field fence for his leadoff home run. Joey Votto walked and Derek Dietrich cleared the fence in the right field corner to make it 3-0.
“To get runs on the board quickly is huge for our pitcher, regardless of who is on the other side,” said Dietrich. “I didn’t even play in the game Monday and I was mentally exhausted. When you play these types of teams in these types of games and when you’re all in it can be mentally exhausting just watching and supporting the guys.
“When you are playing in it, same thing,” he said. “That’s the way you should feel after a game, whether you played or not. When you are into it mentally, well, that’s what we’re after. It’s all about not leaving anything on the field, physically mentally.”
Dietrich said there has been a lot of clubhouse talk the last few days, “About being tough outs because we’ve pitched and we’ve played defense. We’re trying to make a part of our identity that everybody can help in any way.”