McCoy: Small ball helps Reds end four-game losing streak

Cincinnati scores 1-0 win over Pittsburgh in final game of series

It wasn’t a Vesuvius-like eruption, but the way things have gone lately for the Cincinnati Reds, they will take any meager success that comes their way.

They scored only one run and collected only five hits Thursday afternoon in PNC Park, but it was enough.

With Tyler Mahle and the bullpen combing for a shutout, the Reds stopped a four-game losing streak with a 1-0 victory.

And they reverted to old-time small ball to score the only run they needed, throwing analytics out the window.

The game was 0-0 entering the seventh when Tyler Stephenson doubled and Kyle Farmer walked to open the inning.

Modern analytics do not favor sacrifice bunts with position players and Reds manager David Bell has not called for many this season.

This time, though, he called upon Shogo Akiyama to lay one down. And he did, his first career sacrifice bunt.

That put runners on third and second with one out. Pinch-hitter Asdrubal Cabrera, 0 for 17 as a member of the Reds, didn’t get a hit. But he drove a deep fly ball to left center field and pinch-runner Delino DeShields scored on the sacrifice fly.

Of the rare sacrifice bunt, Red manager David Bell said, “It is not that I’m against it. I definitely look for opportunities where it’s the best play and it makes sense. In that situation it felt like the right call.

“It comes down to execution and we don’t do it a lot,” he added. “It is not easy, especially because we don’t do it a lot.”

And until Thursday, Akiyama never had done it.

“It has to be the right spot in the order, the right situation and the right hitter,” said Bell. “It’s not easy to do, it’s not automatic, especially the way defenses play now. Sometimes even if you get the bunt down, you don’t get the job done.

“It was a perfect bunt and I trust his bat-to-ball skills,” said Bell. “Even in his career in Japan I don’t know that he ever bunted, which was amazing.”

Said Akiyama, “With my numbers (.182 batting average, no homers), it made sense to bunt right there. People think when they put that sign on it’s going to be 100 percent (successful), but it is what it is.”

Then came Cabrera’s game-deciding sacrifice fly on the first pitch he saw.

“That meant a lot because that’s why I’m here,” he said. “I’m here to help the team win. This is first time I’m coming from the bench, but I guarantee I try my best every time I come to the ballpark. Whenever I’m given the opportunity to help the team win and do it I feel good.”

Mahle pitched six scoreless innings on five hits survived the leadoff hitter getting on base in three of the first four innings.

“A couple of those were bloopers and then we were able to get some ground balls,” he said.

Mahle bailed himself out of a two-on and one out situation in the first inning when he picked Ke’Bryan Hayes off second base.

“I’d seen a couple of their guys get picked off the last couple of games,” he said. “I knew they were kind of aggressive. So I talked to Jonathan India and Kyle Farmer and said we were going to do this. And it worked out.”

Lucas Sims pitched a scoreless seventh, Michael Lorenzen pitched a 1-2-3 eighth. Mychal Givens tempted disaster in the ninth when he walked two Pirates with one out. Michael Perez, batting .141, flied to center, moving the tying run to third.

With Hoy Park and his .172 average at the plate, Kevin Newman stole second, putting the potential tying run at third and the winning run on second.

Givens went to 3-and-0 on Park, fought back to 3-and-2 and struck him out with a 98 miles an hour fastball to end it.

Givens was on the mound in the ninth inning Wednesday night when Pittsburgh’s Wilmer Difo scored from second on a ground ball to first baseman Joey Votto. Givens took Votto’s throw at first for an out but turned and threw late to home as Difo dove across the plate for a walk-off 5-4 victory.

“That kind of stuff happens,” Givens said of Difo’s dash. “For me it was a fluke. You wake up the next day ready to compete. Stuff like that happens and as a veteran in the bullpen I tell the guys not to dwell on the past.”

With the victory, only their fifth in 17 games, the Reds moved to within one game of the idle St. Louis Cardinals in pursuit of the second wild-card berth.

After going 3-6 on an 11-day trip through St. Louis, Chicago and Pittsburgh, the Reds return home for a daunting challenge. The Los Angeles Dodgers come to Great American Ball Park with pitchers Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw lined up.