CINCINNATI (AP)—The bases were loaded with two outs. Derrek Lee was doing that slow, purposeful walk to the plate. A sickening thought was darting through Dusty Baker’s mind.
No, the Reds manager thought. Please, no.
Baker watched Lee rescue many a game for the Cubs when he managed in Chicago. Baker feared it was going to happen again, in one of those games that can wreck a team’s season.
Instead, Lee grounded out to first baseman Joey Votto, preserving a 5-3 victory on Monday night that ended the Reds’ five-game losing streak and left them feeling like they’d barely dodged something awful.
“You’re trying to be cool, and inside you’re churning,” Baker said. “Boy, that was a big win. That would have been a devastating loss right there.”
Instead, the Reds came away hoping they’ve finally bottomed out.
Adam Dunn hit a two-run homer deep into the seats in right field, and rookie Johnny Cueto got back to hitting the corners with his 95 mph fastball Monday night, a pair of hopeful signs for 13-20 Cincinnati.
The 22-year-old Cueto (2-3) left his pitches over the middle of the plate in his last two starts, when he gave up seven runs in only 8 2-3 innings. Mario Soto, a former Reds pitcher who worked with Cueto in the minors, joined the team and helped him repair his change-up and his confidence.
It showed right away.
Cueto struck out five in the first two innings around a solo homer by Geovany Soto. The right-hander gave up three runs and six hits in six innings, striking out eight.
“He had better command of his breaking ball and his fastball,” Baker said. “He concentrated on keeping it low and away. And he had a decent change-up when he needed it. He’s a kid with a lot of will and desire. You could tell tonight he was focused.”
The Reds took advantage of a pair of errors that led to five unearned runs off Ryan Dempster (4-1), who lost for the first time since switching from closer to starter.
Then, it came down to the wild ninth.
The Cubs loaded the bases with one out off Francisco Cordero. Mike Fontenot was out at the plate when he tried to score from third on a pitched that bounced away from catcher Paul Bako—not far enough.
“I thought the ball went farther than it did,” Fontenot said. “I wanted to get home. It was a bad decision.”
Cordero walked Ryan Theriot to load the bases again, then retired Lee to remain perfect in five save chances and give the Reds a reprieve from their misery.
“You feel like you’re climbing a cactus,” said David Weathers, who pitched the eighth. “It’s hard.”
There were several impressive defensive plays.
Felix Pie stretched above the yellow padding atop the wall in center and stole a homer from Ken Griffey Jr. in the fifth inning. The 20,289 fans had risen in anticipation of Griffey’s 598th career homer, then let out a collective groan when Pie made the play.
Baker planned to give Griffey off after one of the outfielder’s childhood friends died of cancer earlier in the day. Griffey talked Baker into letting him play, and went 1-for-4 with an infield single.
Griffey also slammed into the right-field fence in front of the Cubs’ bullpen to steal an extra-base hit from Alfonso Soriano in the third inning, drawing an ovation.
Chicago’s defense wasn’t so sharp, costing the Cubs in a ballpark where they have fond memories of their last visit. The Cubs clinched the NL Central title at Great American Ball Park with a 6-0 victory on Sept. 28, with Dempster getting the last three outs.
Fontenot’s fielding error—the second baseman rushed trying to start a potential inning-ending double play—set up three unearned runs in the first. Edwin Encarnacion walked to force in a run, and Jeff Keppinger’s broken-bat single scored two more.
Third baseman Mark DeRosa let Encarnacion’s grounder get past him with two outs in the third, and Dunn followed with his fifth homer—a 463-foot drive— for a 5-1 lead.
“I had to make a better pitch to get out of the first inning, and I didn’t do that,” Dempster said. “It really came down to the pitch to Dunn. I tried to get it inside and when you try that pitch, you better get it there. I didn’t, and it gave us too much of a hole to get out of.”
Chicago’s Aramis Ramirez missed his third straight game with a sore left wrist, which was hit by a pitch on Friday. Ramirez tested the wrist on Monday. “He took three or four swings and had to stop,” manager Lou Piniella said. … Cubs batting coach Gerald Perry was ejected by plate umpire Tim Welke for arguing a called third strike in the second inning.