Following an abysmal road trip, the Cincinnati Reds appear to have regained their swagger at Great American Ball Park.
Coming off a second straight victory in their final at-bat, the first-place Reds look to complete a weekend sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.
After limping home from a 1-6 road trip, Cincinnati (81-61) has reclaimed a seven-game lead over second-place St. Louis in the NL Central by winning the first two in this series.
Although Pittsburgh has gotten to the Reds’ bullpen, sending Friday’s opener to extra innings by scoring two runs off closer Francisco Cordero(notes) in the ninth and then plating four in the eighth Saturday to take a one-run lead, Cincinnati has guaranteed itself its first non-losing season since finishing 85-77 in 2000.
The Reds won the series opener 4-3 in 12 innings on a bases-loaded grounder off the bat of Jonny Gomes(notes). In Saturday’s 5-4, 10-inning victory, Cincinnati tied the score on Chris Heisey’s(notes) run-scoring, one-out double in the ninth. Joey Votto(notes) completed the comeback with a solo homer an inning later.
It was the first career game-ending home run for Votto, who was serenaded with chants of “MVP” by the fans as he circled the bases.
“Thank God for Joey Votto,” manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s MVP stuff right there.”
Cincinnati has won a season-best six straight at home and is 10-1 at Great American Ball Park since Aug. 13.
The Pirates (47-94), meanwhile, have lost 17 of their last 18 road games overall and are 3-12 at Cincinnati since the start of last season.
The Reds have won 10 of the last 12 meetings in the season series with the Pirates, with Sunday’s probable starter Johnny Cueto(notes) (12-5, 3.45 ERA) a big reason why. The right-hander has limited Pittsburgh to one run and seven hits over 21 innings while winning his last three starts against the Pirates.
Cueto will seek to bounce back from Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Colorado. He gave up four runs in six innings in his return to the Reds after missing a few days to attend the funeral of his uncle in the Dominican Republic.
Burres, who has spent much of the season with Triple-A Indianapolis, started Monday against Atlanta only because of Jeff Karstens’(notes) arm and shoulder fatigue. Making his first start for the Pirates since May 29, the left-hander allowed one run and five hits while walking none in six innings of a 3-1 victory, and earned himself another turn in the rotation.
“I felt like when I needed to, I could make a good pitch,” said Burres, who earned his first victory since beating the Cubs on May 6. “I didn’t always get ahead of the hitters, but I’d get out of it with a good pitch.”
Burres didn’t have much luck in his lone career start against the Reds, permitting five runs in 3 2-3 innings of a 7-5 loss May 24.
Neil Walker’s(notes) two-run single Saturday capped Pittsburgh’s four-run eighth inning and extended the second baseman’s hitting streak to a career-high 17 games. Walker is batting .370 with 18 RBIs during his run - the longest by a Pirates rookie since 1971, when Rennie Stennett hit in 18 straight.
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