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Reds' loss hurts division title hopes

The SportsXchange

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds have clinched a postseason berth, but any hopes of catching the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central endured a major setback on Tuesday night.

Second baseman Daniel Murphy hit a three-run homer and Jonathon Niese pitched seven solid innings, lifting the New York Mets to a 4-2 victory over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

New York (72-85) beat Cincinnati for just the third time this season in 11 meetings, dropping the Reds three games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central with four games remaining.

"We didn't lose tonight, we got beat," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Sometimes you get beat. We're not happy about it. Four big ones left."

The Reds (90-68) clinched a playoff spot on Monday, and they still hope to secure home-field advantage in the National League wild-card game. That likely will be determined when they play host to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a three-game series this weekend. Pittsburgh defeated the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night to remain two games behind St. Louis.

In what could be his final start this season, Niese (8-8) was stellar, allowing two runs and eight hits. He walked one and struck out six. It was his third consecutive quality start since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 11.

"That was a good lineup today," Niese said of the Reds. "They battled, fouled a lot of balls off and made me throw a lot of pitches. With my shoulder healthy, I felt like I could throw the ball where I wanted to."

After Tuesday's game, Mets manager Terry Collins was non-committal about Niese starting Sunday's regular-season finale. "I don't know. He's got a chance to go 9-8," Collins said. "I'll talk to Jon in a couple of days and see how he feels."

Reds starter Mike Leake (14-7), who had a 20 1/3-inning scoreless streak entering the game, but the Mets abruptly ended it. In his shortest start this season, Leake allowed four earned runs on eight hits in just 1 2/3 innings. He exited after 54 pitches.

"He feels badly about it," Baker said. "Everybody's capable of a bad start."

Five Cincinnati relievers combined to hold the Mets to two hits, one walk and a hit batter in the next 7 1/3 innings to keep the Reds within reach.

Mets right-hander Vic Black struck out two in a scoreless ninth for his first career save.

"I tried to treat it like any other inning. It was absolutely fantastic," Black said.

The Reds got three hits off Niese in the first inning but did not score. Shin-Soo Choo was thrown out at the plate by Juan Lagares attempting to score on Ryan Ludwick's single.

"That was a turning point in the game," Baker said. "Who knows what might've happened. You've got to send him there. It was an accurate throw. We've got to find a way to pick up those RBIs."

Mike Baxter doubled leading off the second and scored on Wilfredo Tovar's single, putting the Mets ahead 1-0.

Jay Bruce prevented a second New York run in the inning when he threw out Tovar trying to score on Niese's single. But, two batters later, Murphy culminated a 10-pitch at-bat against Leake with a three-run homer, putting the Mets ahead 4-0.

"One pitch, I threw it up," Leake said of Murphy's homer. "I just wasn't making pitches."

Choo tripled leading off the fifth on a ball misjudged in center by Lagares. Joey Votto grounded into a double play, but Choo scored to cut the Mets' lead to 4-2. The Reds wouldn't get closer.

"Ever since he came back (from shoulder problem), he's thrown as well as I've seen him since I've been here," Collins said of Niese. "His command, his pace and his velocity is up."

NOTES: Murphy's 13 home runs are a career high. ... Leake's outing tied for the shortest start of his career. Leake's scoreless streak was the longest for a Reds pitcher this season, besting Mat Latos' 21-inning streak from April 19 to May 5. ... Latos will start Wednesday's series finale, a move that aligns the rotation so that Latos could start the wild-card game on Tuesday. RHP Johnny Cueto is scheduled to start Sunday in the regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates. ... The Mets removed INF/OF Jordany Valdespin from the restricted list and placed him on Triple-A Las Vegas' roster. Valdespin was suspended 50 games in August as part of the Biogenesis investigation. To make room for Valdespin on the 40-man roster, LHP Josh Edgin (fractured left rib) was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.
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