By HAL McCOY
The baseball gods are not only smiling down on the Cincinnati Reds, they are covering their mouths to keep from giggling out loud.
The Reds are in a period in which everything they touch turns to platinum. And it has translated into a six-game winning streak.
It was evident again Friday night when the Reds hung another shiner on the Milwaukee Brewers, 11-7, in Miller Park.
It also has resulted in a steady creep toward the top of the National League standings ladder. With a Chicago Cubs loss Friday afternoon, the Reds are 4 1/2 games out of first place. They are two games under .500 (36-38) for the first time since starting the season 1-and-8.
After winning three straight one-run games at home against the Houston Astros, Milwaukee pitchers have made it easy for the Reds to get a quick jump.
On Thursday night, Milwaukee starter Jimmy Nelson issued two walks and hit a batter in the first inning. He walked in a run and Jose Iglesias drilled a two-run single. That three-run first pushed the Reds to a 7-1 victory.
It was almost a carbon copy Friday night, only worse. Milwaukee starter Chase Anderson walked two, hit two batters and walked in a run. And once again Iglesias provided a two-run single, this one an excuse-me blooper to short right field.
The Reds scored three runs in the first on one bloop single, launching them to another victory.
Jose Peraza pushed a two-run triple into the right field corner in the third and Nick Senzel led the fourth with his eighth home run, second in two games, to hike the Reds lead to 6-1.
This one, though, wasn’t as easy for Reds starter Sonny Gray as it was Thursday for Tanner Roark.
Gray was in scramble mode all night. The Brewers stranded two runners in the first, two runners in the second, scored a run in the third and stranded a runner.
After Gray pitched a 1-2-3 fourth he walked Ben Gamel to open the fifth. Christian Yelich did was he seems to always do — he bashed his 29th home run, his third in three games, and extended his hitting streak to 18 games.
The Brewers weren’t finished in the fifth. With one out, Mike Moustakas cleared the center field wall for his 22nd home run and the Reds’ five-run lead dwindled to two, 6-4.
Perhaps hoping to get Gray through five innings to qualify him for a win, manager David Bell let him stay. But when Eric Thames singled on Gray’s 109th pitch his night was over and his line was a plug ugly 4 1/3 innings, four runs, six hits, four walks and two home runs.
Some extra-curricular activity in the seventh led to three more Reds runs.
With one out, Milwaukee pitcher Junior Guerra hit Derek Dietrich with a pitch. It was the third time in the game Dietrich was hit, the first time in club history that a batter was hit by a pitch three times in one game. And it was the fifth time in the two games in Milwaukee that Dietrich was plunked.
Tired of being used as a sitting duck, Dietrich has some pointed words with Guerra and the umpires quickly stepped in before any turmoil erupted.
Dietrich took his base and with two outs Jose Iglesias singled and pinch-hitter Jesse Winker walked, filling the bases.
Corbin Burnes replaced Guerra and walked Curt Casali on a full count, the second Reds runner to score on a bases loaded walk. Kyle Farmer followed with a two-run bloop single and it was 9-4.
Dietrich walked with two outs in the eighth and Yasiels Puig torched his fourth home run in the last six games to make it 11-4. It traveled 462 feet, longest by a Reds hitter this season and nearly landed in Lake Michigan.
Seven of the Reds 11 runs were scored by runners who were put on base by walk or hit by pitch. Dietrich scored all three times after getting hit and scored a fourth run after a walk.
Orlando Arcia hit a home run off Reds’ relief pitcher Matt Bowman in the eighth, loud but harmless, and Yelich cracked a run-scoring double, his 62nd RBI, to make it 11-6.
When Bowman filled the bases with two outs, Bell tried to rescued him by bringing in Mike Lorenzen, who promptly walked Eric Thames to make it 11-7.
The bases were still loaded with pinch-hitter Yasmani Grandal given a chance to tie it with a grand slam home run. Lorenzen went to 3-and-1 before Grandal bounced to Jose Iglesias His throw was wide but first baseman Joey Votto flopped to his stomach and kept his foot on the bag to get the inning-ending out.
To sum it up, Reds pitchers walked 10 and gave up three home runs, but won by four. They scored 11 runs on 10 hits, benefitting from six walks and four hit batsmen.
There were 415 pitches thrown in the game, 207 by the Reds and 208 by the Brewers and it took four hours eight minutes to complete.
While the Reds gained a game on the Cubs, the third place St. Louis Cardinals won and the Reds remain 2 1/2 games out of third place.
And the baseball gods are giggling.