Bruce, Reds slam Astros

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- With a pair of twenty-something veterans leading the way, the Cincinnati Reds took another step toward clinching a playoff berth and, perhaps, a second consecutive National League Central title.

Right-hander Mike Leake tossed eight shutout innings, and Jay Bruce hit a grand slam and drove in five runs as Cincinnati bashed the Houston Astros 10-0 Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.

The Reds (86-66) closed within 1 1/2 games of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-2 losers to the San Diego Padres earlier Tuesday, in the NL Central by sending the Astros (51-100) to their third consecutive 100-loss season. The 2004-06 Kansas City Royals were the last franchise to earn such a dubious distinction.

Cincinnati scored four runs in the first inning and a solo run in the third before Bruce, 26, capped the fourth with his blast.

Leake (14-6) matched his career best with his 30th start (set in 2012) and set a single-season standard with 120 strikeouts. He allowed five hits and two walks en route to his career-best 14th victory.

Leake, 25, set the Astros down in order only twice, in the second and fifth innings, but he induced a pair of double-play groundballs and struck out Marc Krauss with two runners in scoring position to close the eighth. His strikeout of Jake Elmore to open that frame was his 119th this season, besting the 118 strikeouts he amassed in 2011.

"He saved our bullpen again," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of Leake, who has a career-high 190 2/3 innings. "We had another shutout, Meso (catcher Devin Mesoraco) called a great game and (Leake) possibly could have gone the distance but we thought about it and we talked to him about it. It's not often you get to throw a complete-game shutout, but we had to look at the big picture as far as if his pitch count got up too high then it was probably going to affect him his next start against the Mets."

Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Xavier Paul, Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart all recorded two-hit games for the Reds.

The Astros dropped to 0-16 when allowing 10 or more runs in a game.

"I'm always going to concentrate on the things we need to do to improve," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "I don't concern myself with what it is people are going to say. I concern myself about the men in that clubhouse and how we're going to get better every day."

With three consecutive quality starts on his ledger, right-hander Jordan Lyles (7-8) needed to win each of his final three starts to become the Astros' lone 10-game winner this season. Those hopes were summarily dashed when the Reds posted four runs in their first at-bat.

After Phillips reached on Lyles' one-out throwing error, five consecutive Cincinnati batters reached base safely. Bruce and Frazier delivered run-scoring singles prior to Cozart continuing his scorching series with a two-run single to right. Cozart added an RBI single to center field in the third inning, giving him seven RBIs in two games against the Astros.

In the fourth, Lyles surrendered a leadoff single to Derrick Robinson before issuing two walks in advance of Bruce stepping to the plate.

Bruce promptly cranked his 30th home run of the season, boosting his season RBI total to 100 while upping the lead to 9-0. In chasing Lyles from the mound, Bruce eclipsed his career high of 99 RBIs set in 2012.

"I got out of the first inning with a double play and then the next inning I was pretty efficient," Lyles said. "Third inning wasn't too bad, and then Bruce hit a ball down in the zone over the fence, and good offensive teams put up quick numbers like that. Hats off to them."

Emblematic of the Astros' season, rookie shortstop Jonathan Villar was called out in the first attempting to stretch a leadoff single into a double. Phillips applied the tag with his glove between his legs, with Villar embarrassingly sliding face-first into Phillips' backside.

"It was a crazy play," Phillips said while laughing. "I liked the play, but I didn't like all that face in the butt. I felt uncomfortable and violated. I know he felt violated, too. I'm glad it wasn't my face."

NOTES: C Max Stassi, placed on the seven-day concussion list on Aug. 23, will head to the Astros' spring training facility in Florida to face live pitching before joining the club Monday in Arlington for a three-game series against the Texas Rangers. Stassi played just two games before suffering a concussion on Aug. 22 against the Rangers. ... With his first-inning single to left, Reds 1B Joey Votto extended his hitting streak at Minute Maid Park to 22 games, the longest streak in the 14-year history of the stadium.
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