By Hal McCoy
The Cincinnati Reds encountered the perfect storm to conclude their six-game losing streak Monday night in Great American Ball Park, a 5-2 success story over the Miami Marlins.
The Marlins came to town with 13 losses in their last 14 road games and losers in six of their previous seven in all games.
They started 20-year-old rookie Eury Perez, a 6-foot-8 right-hander who hadn’t pitched in nearly a month.
And Miami manager Skip Schumaker, a former Reds player, kept two of his best players, Luis Arraez, hitting .375, and Jazz Chisholm out of the starting lineup.
The Reds and starting pitcher Brandon Williamson took full advantage of the circumstances — when you have the enemy down, don’t let him breathe and don’t let him up.
The Reds (59-55) and Marlins (59-56) are in a right struggle for the third wild card spot in the National League and the Reds took a half-game lead.
But the Reds have bigger fish to fry than the Marlins. The National League Central title remains in grasp.
Williamson was a commander on this night. Through six innings, only two Marlins touch a base — the Soler home run and an error by shortstop Elly De La Cruz in the third.
After the error, Williamson retired nine in a row and struck out the side in the sixth, giving him a career-high nine strikeouts.
But he gave up an infield single to Josh Bell and a single to Bryan De La Cruz (no relation to Elly), then retired the next two in the seventh.
Manager David Bell thought that was enough and brought in Lucas Sims and he preserved a 4-1 lead by striking out 39-year-old Yuli Gurriel.
“Brandon Williamson. Unbelievable,” said TJ Friedl to Bally Sports Ohio after his two-run triple, a single and a run scored. “Unbelievable job for us. He kept them off balance the whole game and he was fun to watch from center field.”
He wa no fun to watch from the batter’s box.
Perez spent nearly a month at Class AA Pensacola taking it easy because the Marlins are keeping close watch on his innings and he had pitched 54 innings by early July.
The Marlins grabbed a quick first-inning lead when Jorge Soler propelled a one-out solo home run barely over the right field wall.
And Perez started as if it was rest well-used. He struck out four of the first six Reds, including all three in the second inning.
But the Reds quickly discovered that Perez couldn’t throw his breaking pitches for strikes and was relying mostly on 97,, 98 and 99 miles per hour fastballs.
Perez issued a one-out walk to Will Benson in the third and a two-out walk to Elly De La Cruz. TJ Friedl, hitting .356 against fastballs, turned on a Perez fastball and pulled a two-run triple into the right field corner.
“All it takes is one big hit because this is such a momentum game,” said Friedl. “Soler hits that home run and we were able to fight back. and we were able to build off the two-run triple.”
The 2-1 lead was the first lead for the Reds since the eighth inning Friday night against the Washington Nationals, a game they lost, 6-3.
Perez’s first two pitches of the fourth landed where no outfielder could catch them, a first-pitch home run to Christian Encarnacion-Strand and a first-pitch home run to Joey Votto, both on 97 miles an hour fastballs.
Friedl, as he has been in many situations lately, singled to left with one out in the seventh. He stole second and continued to third on catcher Nick Fortes’ throwing error and scored on Kevin Newman’s sacrifice fly.
“That’s just the game of baseball, take what they give you,” said Friedl. “Get on base, get to second base however I can, bad throw to get over to third and Spence (Steer) playing the game of baseball by getting me in.”
The Marlins scored a run in the eighth on a pinch-hit home run to left field by Chisholm off Ian Gibaut to cut Cincinnati’s advantage to 5-2.
Closer Alexis Diaz sent a cold shiver through the stands in the ninth before recording his 33rd save. He walked the first the Marlins. He struck out Jesus Sanchez. The Marlins then used their best weapon, sending Arraez up to pinch-hit. And he rolled into an inning-ending double play.
The Reds were on their third six-game losing streak, but avoided their first seven-game skid.
“There was no worry, no panic in the clubhouse,” said Friedl. “We all have the same goal, the same mind-set. We all come out each and every day and we’re going to play hard and we’re going to play aggressive.
“That’s our mind-set and nothing changes,” he added. “We’re going to play aggressive. When we lose, nothing changes.”
The frustrated Marlins suffered two ejections from plate umpire Roberto Ortiz. Left fielderAvisail Garcia was thumbed in the fifth inning for giving a negative reaction to a called third strike. Manager Schumaker was excused in the eighth while make a mound visit and also expessing some negativity.