By HAL McCOY
Diane Birch sang a song called, “Nothing But a Miracle,” and that’s exactly what happened Wednesday afternoon in Great American Ball Park.
The Cincinnati Reds, down a run and down to their last out to the Houston Astros, pulled two rabbits out of one hat to snatch away an unfathomable 3-2 victory.
They trailed, 2-1, in the ninth inning against Houston closer Roberto Osuna, owner of 17 saves in 19 opportunities.
Jose Peraza led the inning with a double. But pinch-hitters Tucker Barnhart and Joey Votto both struck out.
Two pitches, just two pitches later, the game was over. Nick Senzel picked on Osuna’s first pitch, a fast ball, and drilled it into center field. It scored Peraza. Tie game. Senzel took second on the throw home.
Jesse Winker pulled a carbon copy. First pitch. Fastball. Single to right field to score Senzel. Game over. Walk-off win.
Incredibly, it completed a three-game sweep of the Astros, the first time this season the Astros have been swept. And all three wins were by one run, three one-run wins by a team that has lost and lost and lost one-run games.
The Reds are on a four-game winning streak, tying their season’s best as they head to Milwaukee for a four-game series.
It was only fair that Tyler Mahle did not receive a loss Wednesday. He pitched magnificently, but stood to take his eighth loss this season if the Reds hadn’t found a couple of four-leaf clovers in the batter’s box in the ninth.
Mahle shut the Astros out for five innings. He struck out the first two batters in the sixth on six pitches. Two outs, nobody on.
That situation has plagued Mahle all season long and it surfaced again. He gave up a two-out single to Alex Bregman. He had Michael Brantley 0-and-2, then hung a breaking pitch and Brantley racked it deep into the right field seats for a 2-1 lead.
Mahle pitched a career-best seven innings, giving up two runs and four hits while walking one and striking out seven.
On the other side, the Reds had Houston starter Gerrit Cole at the end of a pier all day long, but couldn’t push him into the drink.
The Reds stranded seven runners in the first four innings. Cole walked the first two batters in the first, but the Reds didn’t score. They had two on with two outs in the third, but Cole struck out Derek Dietrich on a 101 miles an hour fastball.
They had two on with one out in the fourth, but Cole struck out Curt Casali on three pitches and Mahle on three pitches.
The only mark against Cole’s name was Yasiel Puig’s leadoff laser-bolt home run in left field in the third, Puig’s third home run in five games.
The 1-0 lead is what Mahle worked with until Brantley’s two-run home run in the sixth.
Not only did Winker poke the winning hit, he came up with the game’s defining defensive play in the eighth inning. Pinch-hitter Tony Kemp singled and was on the second with two outs.
Brantley hit an opposite-field single to shallow left field and Kemp tried to score from second. Winker made a right-on two-hop throw to catcher Curt Casali and Kemp was out. Instead of 3-1 it remained 2-1, enabling the Reds to win it in the ninth.
There is no question the Reds caught the Astros at the right time. For the first two games the Astros were missing Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa.
Altuve returned Wednesday after missing 35 games and the rust was evident as he went 0 for 4 and hit into a double play.
The Reds, though, didn’t feel sorry for them and grasped the opportunity, took huge advantage of it, and sent the Astros out of town with their tails tucked.
After losing the first two games of the homestand to the Texas Rangers, the Reds won four straight to complete a 4-2 homestand.
“It was a fun series against a great team and fun to see those guys (Senzel, Winker) come through,” manager David Bell in his post-game media interview. “It is easy when you win by big margins, but winning games like this is what it takes against teams like Houston.
“The way our guys are responding says something and you can sense in the clubhouse that the guys know how good they can be,” he added.
After his last start, Mahle complained to the media about being removed early in games. He and Bell had a heart-to-heart, then Mahle pitched well enough to stay in a game longer than any time in his career and Bell said, “That may be the best game Mahle has pitched this year.”