Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto came off the mound in the sixth inning Sunday at Great American Ball Park with the game tied 3-3, knowing his day on the mound had ended. His teammates hadn’t scored since the first, and he was quite vocal about what he wanted to see in the bottom of the inning.
“I want three runs here,” he said.
What the ace wants the ace gets, it seems, because the Reds scored exactly that in the sixth. Then relievers Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman made sure three was enough as the Reds beat the Nationals 6-3 to win the series 2-1 and the homestand 4-2. Cincinnati heads to St. Louis all alone in first place in the National League Central Division.
If the first series with the Angels was a possible World Series preview, it would surprise no one if the Reds and Nationals (4-2) meet in the NL Championship Series.
With Cueto and Washington ace Stephen Strasburg on the mound Sunday, this game had the look of a Game 7 — minus the chill and tension of October — and the Reds showed they have early edge. Cincinnati scored three in the first on a two-run double by Jay Bruce and fielder’s choice groundout by Todd Frazier.
The Nationals evened the score in the second on a three-run home run by their No. 8 hitter, catcher Kurt Suzuki. Cueto said he felt off in the second inning.
“I don’t want to give excuses,” he said. “I was starting to feel loose, but I wasn’t 100 percent.”
Cueto rebounded by giving up just two hits in his last four innings. Strasburg kept the Reds off the board from the second to the sixth inning, but the Reds left seven men on base during those innings. Neither pitcher had his best stuff.
“You think it’s going to be a low-scoring pitching matchup, and both sides were scoring at will early,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “Johnny threw a lot of pitches, same with Strasburg. Sometimes you think it’s going to be a slugfest and it’s 2-1, and today we didn’t think we were going to get many.”
Strasburg gave up six earned runs, which he only did once all of last season when he was 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA.
The Reds knocked him out of the game in the sixth, and the rally started with Derrick Robinson’s pinch-hit single, the first hit of his career. He later scored on a fielder’s choice groundout by Xavier Paul.
Second baseman Danny Espinosa fielded the grounder and tried to throw out Robinson at home, but the speedy outfielder beat the tag.
“I was going on the ground if it was hit anywhere on the field,” Robinson said. “Instinct kicked in as soon as I saw it off the bat on the ground.”
Run-scoring singles by Brandon Phillips and Bruce completed the rally, and Cueto had the three runs he wanted and the team needed.
Reds at Cardinals, 4:15 p.m., FS Ohio, 700, 1410