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Chapman blows another save chance as Reds lose 4-3

CINCINNATI (AP) — Aroldis Chapman got another chance, and gave it away.

The shaky Reds closer was tagged by Josh Willingham’s two-run homer in the ninth inning Sunday, rallying the Minnesota Twins over Cincinnati 4-3.

In Chapman’s previous outing, he allowed a game-ending, two-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera in the 10th inning at Cleveland last Tuesday.

This time, Chapman relieved starter Mike Leake with a one-run edge. Joe Mauer doubled off the left-field wall with one out and Willingham followed with his 15th homer of the season, a 438-foot drive into the second level in left on a 3-1 pitch.

Reds manager Dusty Baker believes Chapman’s problems stem from falling behind hitters, forcing him to come in with his fastball. He can throw it at more than 100 mph, but it’s less effective when batters know it’s coming.

“He is right,” Chapman said through interpreter and assistant trainer Tomas Vera. “The last two outings, I’ve had that issue.”

Baker was determined to use Chapman (4-4) even though Leake had thrown just 86 pitches while allowing five hits and two runs with no walks and five strikeouts in eight innings.

“That’s (Chapman’s) job,” Baker said. “Leake just came off throwing 112 pitches his last time. That was the most he’d ever thrown. Everybody’s got a job. What if I send Leake out and he gives it up? The hitters coming up he would have been facing for the fourth time. He’d done enough. He did his job.”

Chapman, now 8 for 12 in save opportunities, denied that he was bothered by lower-back problems that Baker had previously mentioned.

“I haven’t thrown one pitch where I was feeling a problem,” the Cuban said. “I’ve been feeling good.”

Leake had no problem with Baker’s decision.

“If they had said (the ninth) was your inning, I could’ve gone out there, but the guy throws 100,” Leake said. “It was a pretty good decision to put a fresh arm in there. It just didn’t work out.”

Willingham’s homer overcame Joey Votto’s eighth-inning, two-run homer that had given the Reds a 3-2 lead.

Minnesota left-hander Scott Diamond (6-3), who’d lost his last two starts, allowed three runs and eight hits in eight innings. He struck out seven and also hit two batters, Votto and Brandon Phillips, with consecutive pitches in the third.

Former Reds pitcher Jared Burton worked the ninth for his first career save.

The loss left the NL Central leaders at 7-8 in interleague play this season and 104-131 all-time. The Twins finished 9-9 this year and are 157-125 all-time.

The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Devin Mesoraco’s leadoff double down the left-field line, Leake’s sacrifice and Wilson Valdez’s two-out single.

Trevor Plouffe tied the score with his 15th homer of the season, a 385-foot drive to right-center field with one out in the fifth. The shot extended to 62 the number of consecutive games in which at least one home run has been hit at Great American Ball Park, the longest current streak in the majors.

The score was 1-all when Mauer lined Leake’s first pitch of the seventh to right field for a single and Willingham followed with a double, setting up Justin Morneau’s RBI groundout.

Valdez led off the eighth inning with an infield single. Votto followed with his 14th homer of the season, an opposite-field drive to left.

NOTES: Reds SS Zack Cozart, who had one hit in 14 at-bats over his last three games, also got Sunday off. Valdez started in his place.