PITTSBURGH -- It certainly wasn't the nail biter generally associated with a meeting of two contending teams on the next-to-last Sunday of the season.
The Cincinnati Reds took a lot of the suspense out of the game early as Jay Bruce's three-run double sparked a five-run first inning and Cincinnati cruised to a 11-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
"Getting that five spot in the first was huge," winning pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "Especially in a game like this."
The Reds took two of three in the series to move into a tie with the Pirates for the first National League wild-card spot with one week remaining in the regular season. Both teams are 89-67.
The Washington Nationals fell 5 1/2 games behind the Reds and Pirates for the second wild-card slot following a 4-2 loss to the visiting Miami Marlins in the first game of a day-night doubleheader on Sunday.
The NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals, who played a night game against the Brewers at Milwaukee, entered the day two games in front of the Pirates and three ahead of the Reds in the division race.
"It was a big win for us because we don't want to continue to fall behind," Cincinnati left fielder Chris Heisey said. "If we're going to have to play a one-game playoff in the wild card (round), we'd sure like to do it at home. If we had lost this game, we would have been two games down to the Pirates and it would have been a real uphill battle go get home-field advantage with only one week left in the season."
The Pirates and Reds will meet in a season-ending three-game series at Cincinnati beginning Friday. Before that, the Reds host the New York Mets and the Pirates visit the Chicago Cubs for three.
"This is one of those series where both teams were opportunistic in their wins," Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. "Today we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole early and they never let up, kept their foot on the gas pedal.
"We have to continue to play good baseball here and things are going to go our way."
The Reds jumped on losing pitcher Jeff Locke (10-7) quickly, loading the bases with one out in the first inning on a single by Heisey and walks to Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. Bruce drove them all in with his double to center field.
Bruce went 0-for-9 in the first two games of the series after going 7-for-13 with 10 RBIs in the Reds' previous series, a three-game sweep at Houston.
Todd Frazier followed with a two-run home run to left-center, his 18th of the season, to make it 5-0.
The Reds batted around in the inning and Locke was replaced by Jeanmar Gomez to begin the second.
Cincinnati rookie center fielder Billy Hamilton, subbing for injured Shin-Soo Choo, had three hits and two stolen bases in his second major league start. Hamilton is hitting .462 and is 12-for-12 in steal attempts since being called up Sept. 2 from Triple-A Louisville.
Heisey also had three hits for the Reds and drove in two runs. Bruce finished with two hits and four RBIs while Votto, Phillips and Zack Cozart had two hits apiece.
Walker went 2-for-2 with a double, a home run and two walks.
Arroyo (14-11) pitched just five inning but got the win as he allowed three runs and five hits while striking out three and walking two. Arroyo snapped a four-start winless streak in notching his first victory since Aug. 24.
"It was a grind," Arroyo said. "I didn't feel good physically today and the Pirates ground out a lot of tough at-bats."
Locke is 1-5 with a 6.66 ERA in 11 starts since winning at Cincinnati on July 21 in his first start after the All-Star break. He was roundly booed during the first inning.
"It's frustrating, but I need to give them something to cheer about instead of boo," Locke said.
The Reds stretched their lead to 7-0 in the second inning as Heisey doubled in a run and scored on Phillips' sacrifice fly.
Walker led off the bottom of the third with his 13th home run. The Pirates drew within 7-3 in the fifth when Travis Snider led off with his third pinch-hit homer of the season and fifth overall before Walker hit an RBI double.
In the eighth, Heisey and Bruce sandwiched RBI singles around Votto's run-scoring double to push the lead to 10-3. Derrick Robinson singled in the game's final run in the ninth.
"We knew it was an important series, they knew it was an important and our guys responded and jumped them early in this one," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It was a good win for us, an important win."
NOTES: X-rays on Choo's right thumb were negative and he could return to action Monday. Choo was injured Friday night when he dove headfirst into first base in an unsuccessful attempt to beat out an infield hit. ... Pirates C Russell Martin left the game after the fourth inning with left knee discomfort but the injury was not considered serious. ... The Pirates finished with a season attendance of 2,256,862, an average of 28,211 a game and the second-largest in their history. ... Cincinnati hosts the New York Mets on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series with RHP Johnny Cueto (5-2, 3.02) facing RHP Aaron Harang (5-12, 5.69). ... The Pirates begin a three-game series with the Cubs on Monday night at Chicago with RHP Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.35) opposing RHP Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.42).