CINCINNATI (AP)—Wily Mo Pena dropped his head and rounded the bases respectfully, letting everyone else squint to try to see where the white speck of ball would land.
Back in the dugout, teammates pointed to a spot way up in the upper deck in left-center. Pena couldn’t believe it.
His three-run homer into the far reaches drew an extra standing ovation and went down in Great American Ball Park lore. His two-out, tiebreaking double in the eighth provided the final touch on a signature performance.
“It looked like it was Wily Mo’s day,” Astros manager Phil Garner said.
After losing 12 straight games to Houston since last July 31, the Reds won the last two with solid starting pitching, an awesome swing and a late comeback.
Afterward, they were still talking about the swing.
Pena’s fourth-inning homer off Brandon Duckworth traveled an estimated 498 feet. Fans in right field bowed and gave Pena a standing ovation for the second-longest homer in the ballpark’s three seasons.
“That ball—has it landed yet? I don’t know,” Reds starter Aaron Harang said. “That ball was something to see.”
Joe Randa had a more modest two-run shot off Duckworth, who lasted five innings in his first start this season and left trailing 5-3. After the Astros tied it in the seventh, Randa singled off Chad Qualls (1-1) with one out in the eighth and came around on Pena’s double to the wall in right.
It was another near-miss for the Astros, who went 1-5 on their first road trip and have shown a propensity for close games. Six of their first 11 have been decided by one run, and they’ve lost four of them.
Good pitching and a sputtering offense will do that.
“We’re going to have to come through with the winning runs,” Garner said. “Our pitching is going to keep us close. It’s going to test our mettle. We’re going to see a lot of those.”
Harang had only one bad moment in six innings, Jason Lane’s three-run homer in the fourth. The Astros pulled even against Cincinnati’s bullpen in the seventh, when Chris Burke singled home the tying run for his first career RBI.
Lane has four homers this season, all against the Reds. Lane tied his career high with four home runs last year in 107 at-bats. This time, he got No. 4 in only his 44th at-bat.
Pena had his breakout season last year after Ken Griffey Jr. tore his hamstring, requiring surgery in August. The burly outfielder with the big swing finally started hitting the breaking ball and laying off bad pitches, allowing him to showcase his incredible power—he hits balls to the deepest reaches of the park in batting practice.
“Sometimes I surprise myself, like I don’t believe I hit it that far,” said Pena, who has three homers in only 23 at-bats.
His latest drive left the bat with such an authoritative “crack!” that everyone on the field stood and watched it soar. Only one ball has gone farther in the park—last August, Adam Dunn hit one that cleared the batter’s eye in center and came to rest on driftwood in the Ohio River, some 535 feet from home plate.
“It was just a bad pitch,” Duckworth said. “It came out of my hand as I was releasing it. It was a breaking ball that didn’t do what it was supposed to do. I left it in his nitro zone.”
While Pena takes his bows, Griffey is struggling to regain his stroke. He went 0-for-3 with a walk Sunday, leaving him without a homer all year.
Griffey didn’t hit a homer during 48 spring training at-bats, and has gone 35 at-bats without one during the season. In 1991, he didn’t homer until his 45th at-bat, his longest season-opening drought.
Griffey’s last homer—the 501st of his career—came last July 8 off Milwaukee’s Wes Obermueller.
Several regulars on both teams got the day off, including Astros 2B Craig Biggio, who had his nine-game hitting streak snapped Saturday. Biggio had a pinch-hit single in the seventh. His 2,654th career hit tied Ted Williams for 64th place. … SS Jose Vizcaino got his first start of the season and had a double. … Reds RHP Ramon Ortiz had soreness in his groin Sunday, a day after he threw off a mound, and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. RHP Matt Belisle will pitch against the Cubs on Monday. The Reds didn’t immediately fill the roster spot.