By Hal McCoy
How in the name of Abner Doubleday did the Cincinnati Reds bring a six-game losing streak to a conclusion Wednesday night in Great Americn Ball Park?
How do you win a game when you get hits in only one inning and nothing in the other seven?
How do you win a game when your last 17 batters make outs?
That, though, was the scenario as the Reds not only brought their losing streak to an end, but also ended San Francisco’s seven-game wining streak, 3-2.
The answer revolves around two names — Will Benson and Graham Ashcraft.
The Reds had only four hits, all in the third inning, with Benson providing the exclamation point with a three-run homer.
Ashcraft escaped two early problems and pitched six innings of two-run, five-hit baseball, then Ian Gibaut, Lucas Sims and Alexis Diaz put San Francisco’s bats in cold storage the rest of the way.
Giants starter Ross Stripling retired the first six in order and the Reds didn’t get the ball out of the infield, six ground balls.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand, playing first base in the Reds all-rookie infield (Matt McLain at second, Spencer Steer at third, Elly De La Cruz at short), opened the third with a line single to center.
Tyler Stephenson singled to right-center bringing up baseball’s most productive number nine hitter, Benson, to the plate. He drilled a Stripling slider into the left field seats, his eighth homer and second in two days, to provide his team’s only runs.
TJ Friedl slapped a hustle-double with two outs and that was that, 17 up and 17 down.
Ashcraft’s escape acts came in the second and in the fifth.
Luis Matos led the second with a double and took third on Blake Sabol’s infield single off Ashcraft’s body, putting runners on third and first with no outs. Ashcraft struck out David Villar. And he struck out Brett Wisely while Sabol tried to steal second. Stephenson threw him out. End of inning.
Ashcraft filled the bases with no outs in the fifth and wriggled out of it with only one run. He hit Villar with a pitch then walked Wisely on four pitches and walked Casey Schmitt on four pitches, filling them up.
But Encarnacion-Strand started a 3-6-1 double play on which Ashcraft hustled to cover first and take the relay throw. A run scored on the play and Wisley took third. But Ashcraft coaxed an inning-ending pop-up from Mike Yastrzemski.
Ashcraft took the mound for the seventh and gave up a home run to Sabol, cutting the lead to 3-2.
Manager David Bell went to his bullpen and Ian Gibaut went 1-2-3.
Lucas Sims arrived for the eighth and gave up a leadoff single and hit a batter with two outs. He squirmed free by getting Matos to fly to left.
That left it up to closer Alexis Diaz and he made quick work of it with two strikeouts and a game-ending grounder back to the mound for his 27th save and a win for Ashcraft (5-7).
Benson has been one of baseball’s most productive bats after his early-season 1-for-25 that got him a demotion to Class AAA Louisville. Since his return he is hitting .357 with some big hits, none bigger than his homer Wednseday.
“I didn’t think it was going to be enough, to be honest, but it was,” said Benson during a post-game on-the-field interview with Bally Sports Ohio.
“Yes. . .I got a slider in the middle of the plate,” he said of Stripling’s offering. “I was just looking for a good pitch to hit and I wanted to be aggressive on pitches in the middle of the zone. That’s what happened.”
Since his return from his Louisville exile, he has found his name consistently on the lineup card.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “I want to thank David Bell for trusting me and putting me in the lineup every day and thank myself for going out there and putting my best foot forward.
“Once I see my name in the lineup I’m going to put my best foot forward and go from there,” he added. “I go out there and be aggressive, ready to swing. It’s all about trusting yourself and trusting your mechanics. You can’t really learn when you are passive, especially when you get to this level because these guys are really good.
Benson is good, too, really, really good.
The Reds didn’t gain any ground in their pursuit of the Milwaukee Brewers, who beat Philadelphia Wednesday, 5-3, and remain 2 1/2 games ahead of the Reds in the National League Central.
The Reds (51-46) have played 97 games and 40 have been decided by one-run. Their record in one-run games is 21-19. The Giants, 1 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Central, are 12-11 in one-run games.