By HAL McCOY
For a brief few moments, it looked as if the bewitched, bothered, bewildered and battered Cincinnati Reds bullpen worked its un-Midas touch.
Tucker Barnhart came to the rescue in a mammoth way, a three-run 10th-inning home run that lifted the Reds from the doldrums to a 6-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
The victim, again, was newly-acquired closer, Shane Greene, lifted from the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline.
On Saturday night, Barnhart’s bloop single off Greene gave the Reds a 4-3 ninth-inning lead, but they lost that one in the 10th, 5-4.
The Reds had two outs and nobody on in the 10th. Suddenly potent Aristides “The Intimidator” Aquino singled and Jose Iglesias singled.
Barnhart crawled all over Greene’s first pitch, a breaking ball, and blasted it deep into the right field seat.
The only unfortunate thing was that Garrett ruined an outstanding pitching performance by starter Sonny Gray.
Asked to protect Gray’s 3-1 lead in the ninth inning Sunday, Amir Garrett was not up to the challenge in the quest for his first major league save.
With closer Raisel Iglesias unavailable due to previous usage, Garrett was chosen to finish it.
He retired the first batter, but walked pinch-hitter Freddie Freeman, who was taking day off. That brought up Ronald Acuna, Jr., the potential tying run.
When Acuna took a called second strike, he threw his hands up in protest, but umpire Manny Gonzalez permitted him to get away with it. Garrett slipped behind 3-and-2, and Acuna unloaded into the right field seats to tie it, 3-3.
When Ozzie Albies singled, Robert Stephenson took over. He tried to pick off Albies and threw it into right field. Albies sprinted to third and was the winning run with one out.
Stephenson struck out Adam Duvall and got pinch-hitter Brian McCann on a ground ball, sending into the 10th.
Sonny Gray force-fed the Braves a heavy diet of breaking pitches and appeared on his way to an easy victory.
Gray pitched his way out of a couple of threatening issues while holding the power-laden Braves lineup to no runs and four hits over seven innings.
It was a sunny day for Sonny Gray. 3-and-1 over his last seven starts (should be 4-and-1) as the Reds took split the four-game series with the National League East leaders.
Offensively, the Reds stroked only four hits for nine innings, but made strong use of them. They played successful smallball by scoring their runs on a pair of two-out singles and a squeeze bunt by Gray.
But Barnhart put the heavy emphasis on the proceedings. “I got cheapie last night, but I got a good pitch to hit today after watching a lot of video on Greene,” Barnhart said during a post-game interview with Fox Sports Ohio.
The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the third. Atlanta pitcher Julio Teheran obviously didn’t watch the trouble Reds pitchers encountered when they issued nine walks Saturday night.
He walked Tucker Barnhart on a full count with one out, Gray bunted him to second and Jesse Winker pulled a two-out run-scoring single to right.
It became 2-0 in the fourth. Teheran hit Derek Dietrich with a pitch with one out, the 23rd time this season Dietrich has been hit.
Jose Iglesias doubled and Barnhart was walked intentionally, bringing up Gray with one out. He perfect executed the squeeze bunt, pushing the ball hard up the first base line.
Another walk came around to score in the fifth. Teheran walked Josh VanMeter with two outs. VanMeter stole second and scored on Nick Senzel’s two-out single and it was 3-0.
Gray left after seven innings, taking a 109-pitch shutout with him, turning it over to Lucas Sims.
Sims gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Josh Donaldson, and a two-out single, but worked through it.
Gray was in trouble in the first when he gave up a leadoff double to Ronald Acuna Jr. and a two-out walk. He struck out Austin Riley to end it after throwing 29 pitches and going to 3-and-2 counts on three hitters.
He gave up leadoff double to Riley in the fourth but doused the uprising by striking out Johan Camargo and Tyler Flowers.
The shutout disappeared on Sims’ sixth pitch, a 3-and-2 hanging breaking pitch to Josh Donaldson. He crash-landed it into the left field seats, his 26th home run.
Sims shook it aside by striking out the next two on high inside fastballs out of the strike zone. He gave up a single to Ender Inciarte then struck out Johan Camargo, the potential tying run.
Then came the Freeman home run, Stephenson’s escape act and The Barnhart Blast.
And it appears the Reds have shed the Daylight Demons. After starting the season 13-30 in natural daylight, they have won three straight, none as dramatically as Sunday’s.
So it was a celebratory plane ride back to Cincinnati, where the Reds open a brief two-game series Monday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. And after that the first place Chicago Cubs arrive in Cincinnati for a four-game series.