Reds trying to get top seed

Published 1:58 am Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CINCINNATI (AP) — Another win over a fading pursuer has Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips thinking about a really big number.

Phillips homered and drove in a pair of runs Tuesday night, and Mike Leake pitched seven innings and scored off a dash home on a wild pitch, setting up a 5-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates that moved Cincinnati another step closer to the NL Central title.

“I’m trying to get to 100 wins and the No. 1 seed,” Phillips said, referring to the playoffs. “A hundred wins would be nice. A hundred wins would be a beautiful thing. I think it would be a great accomplishment.”

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It would be something of a long shot — at 86-57, they’d have to win 14 of their last 19 games. They also would have to overtake Washington (88-54) for the top seed in the playoffs.

Another grind-it-out win on Tuesday kept them thinking big. Both teams were recovering from their 5-hour, 22-minute game on Monday night, won by the Reds 4-3 in 14 innings.

Cincinnati didn’t show any after-effects.

“We played a very good game tonight in all phases,” manager Dusty Baker said.

Leake (8-9) gave up nine hits, including Alex Presley’s solo homer and pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez’s two-run shot.

Leake singled and eventually scored during a decisive three-run second inning off Kevin Correia (10-9) aided by an error.

The Pirates have lost five in a row and 22 out of 31, falling out of contention in the NL Central. They trail the Reds by a season-high 13 games.

The deep slump also has left them at risk of extending their unmatched streak of futility. The Pirates haven’t had a winning record for the last 19 seasons, a record for a North American pro team. The loss on Tuesday dropped them to 72-69.

“We’ve had some opportunities,” Correia said. “We’re getting close. But we’ve got to just keep fighting. We’re not on a good run right now, but it can very easily turn around with one game. I think everybody knows that.”

The NL Central leaders will get by the next few days without closer Aroldis Chapman, who has a tired pitching shoulder. He walked three of the five batters he faced on Monday night, when his velocity was down from 100 mph to the mid-90s.

Jonathan Broxton, acquired from Kansas City at the trade deadline, assumes the role. He pitched the ninth, allowing a hit, for his first save in three tries with the Reds. He had 23 saves with the Royals.

Before the game, Phillips talked to Pirates reliever Jared Hughes to ease hard feelings. Hughes hit Phillips with a pitch on Monday night, and Phillips got the ball and flipped it at the mound. Phillips thought he heard the reliever make a derogatory comment.

On Tuesday, Phillips said they talked and cleared up “a big misunderstanding.”

Reds third baseman Scott Rolen was back after being out of the starting lineup the last five games with a sore back. He hit his seventh homer of the season in the eighth inning, his first since Aug. 15.

With the score tied at 1, Leake helped himself in the second inning after Dioner Navarro drew a walk. Leake failed to get down a bunt on the first two pitches, then swung away and singled. Phillips’ double scored Navarro and sent Leake to third.

When Correia’s pitch bounced away from catcher Michael McKenry, Leake dashed home and scored with a hard, feet-first slide. Phillips followed him home when McKenry retrieved the ball and threw wildly to the plate.

“I don’t know if the ball hit my leg or not,” Leake said. “Fortunately, Brandon was able to come around.”

That wasn’t the end of the Pirates’ self-destruction.

With Clint Barmes on second base in the fifth inning, Correia tried to sacrifice but popped up his bunt for an easy out. Brock Holt then singled to right and rounded the base too far — first baseman Joey Votto cut off the throw and flipped to Phillips covering the base to get the rookie.

“That was just a heads-up play,” Phillips said. “He’s going around the base hard, trying to force the cut-off in case their guy’s trying to score. I was able to sneak in behind him. I was being the sneaky player I am. That was a key out. I felt like that was the game.”

NOTES: Reds SS Zack Cozart was out of the lineup for a seventh straight game with a strained oblique. … Phillips hit Correia’s first pitch for his fourth career leadoff homer and the fifth by the Reds this season. … Holt extended his hitting streak to seven games. … Leake has four multihit games this season and nine for his career. He has 43 hits over the last three seasons, the most by any pitcher in the majors.