NEW YORK -- Before Sunday's game against the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker shook his head. A life-long student of the game as a player and manager, he was as stumped as an average fan on some questions.
He pointed to how the Mets had scored 29 runs against an impressive Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff in a three-game sweep entering the weekend, then struggled against the Reds in the first two games.
"Weird ...," Baker said.
His team then added to the weirdness, shutting down the Mets again with a 3-1 win to finish off a three-game sweep. The Mets managed just five runs in the series, this time getting shut down by Johnny Cueto in the Reds' sixth straight win.
"Man, that's baseball," Baker said after the game, of the contrast for the Mets. "That's something you can't figure out."
Mets manager Terry Collins didn't have much more of an explanation, as he said he had been working on correcting the issue entering Sunday's game, but he offered one theory.
"Well, we asked ourselves the same question this morning -- 'What's the difference?'" Collins said. "One of the things we've done, we've gotten big hits with two outs, and this series we didn't."
Of course, it's not all that odd for the NL Central leaders to win these days, this time behind seven strong innings from Cueto (8-3), and a three-run fifth inning.
Cueto also added his first career extra-base hit, a double in the third that left him feeling "dizzy" after running the bases, but he was fine after being given some medication for his stomach, he said. He didn't appear to have any issues, allowing one run on six hits for his third straight win.
"Well, after that I relaxed and I felt better," Cueto said through a translator. "Threw the kind of game I wanted to throw."
He was helped by RBI singles by Wilson Valdez and second baseman Brandon Phillips in the fifth inning.
Shortstop Zack Cozart doubled to lead off the fifth against Mets starter Chris Young (1-1), and Valdez singled him in to tie the game 1-1. After an intentional walk to Joey Votto, Phillips singled to right, scoring Valdez before right fielder Lucas Duda's throwing error allowed Votto to score to make it 3-1.
Phillips said he was just trying to go the other way against Young at that point, saying the 6-foot-10 righty "looks like he's 10 feet up on the mound."
Lefty Sean Marshall pitched the final 1 1/3 innings to earn his ninth save of the season, getting pinch-hitter Scott Hairston on a fielder's choice with two on and two outs in the eighth before pitching a perfect ninth.
Cueto was helped by impressive defense. The highlight was a double play started by Phillips on Ike Davis' grounder in the sixth. Phillips said he practices flipping the ball between his legs after taking his routine grounders during batting practice, and it showed as he made a perfect flip through his legs to Cozart, who made a nice spin on his throw to first.
"It was something that just came natural," Phillips said, jokingly adding he'd give the play an "8 1/2" on his highlight reel.
Cueto, who struck out eight, allowed his only run after it appeared he had worked himself out of a jam in the second.
After allowing three consecutive one-out singles to Davis, Daniel Murphy and Josh Thole, Cueto retired No. 8 hitter Andres Torres on a fly to shallow center for the second out, keeping the bases loaded.
But Cueto then walked Young to force in a run and give the Mets a 1-0 lead, before striking out Kirk Nieuwenhuis to end the inning.
Young (1-1) didn't fare much worse than Cueto, allowing three runs (two earned) on nine hits in seven innings, and Collins said he was "very happy" with the way he pitched in his third start of the season following his rehab from right shoulder surgery.
NOTES: Mets left fielder Jason Bay's timetable for his return from the concussion sustained Friday night is uncertain. Collins said "anything's possible" when asked if Bay could miss the rest of the season. Bay was told to stay home during the weekend, but will likely see a doctor Monday, Collins said. ... SS Ruben Tejada (strained right quadriceps) will make his first rehab appearance Monday for Class AAA Buffalo, Collins said. ... Reds third baseman Scott Rolen (strained left shoulder) should rejoin the Reds on Monday as long as there was no lingering pain from a pair of rehab appearances this weekend, manager Dusty Baker said. ... Outfielder Chris Heisey pinch-hit Sunday after missing the past two games because of a tight left groin. Baker had said before the game Heisey could play, but indicated he wouldn't use him until the next series against the Cleveland Indians. ... SS Omar Quintanilla was moved up to the second spot in the order because Collins said he has liked his patience and discipline at the plate. Quintanilla, who has been filling in at short after injuries to Tejada and Ronny Cedeno, entered the game with a .393 on-base percentage.