For two innings Monday night, it looked as if the Cincinnati Reds might have to search the clubhouse for a white surrender flag and hang it on a Great American Ball Park flagpole.
The Pittsburgh Pirates scored five early runs off Reds starter Vladimir Gutierrez and with the St. Louis Cardinals beating the Milwaukee Brewers, it looked as if the Reds would fall four games behind in the wild card chase with only 11 games left.
The Reds, though, were not about to fold any tents or run any flags up any poles on this night.
They crushed four home runs, two by Joey Votto and one each by Eugenio Suarez and Kyle Farmer to blast their way back to a 9-5 victory, outscoring the Pirates, 9-0, from the third through the eighth inning.
The Cardinals beat Milwaukee, 5-2, to remain three games up on the Reds, so the hill is still steep for the Reds, but not as steep as it would have been with a loss and a four-game deficit.
“Comebacks are going to be necessary,” said Votto, who had three hits and two walks and has been on base seven straight plate appearances and 11 of his last 13 trips to the batter’s box.
“It’s challenging when you are down runs early, but we are going to win as a unit,” said Votto. “Comebacks are going to be essential to get a 5-0 lead to a one-run game so quickly is hard to do.
“It was challenging because down 5-0 is not where you want to be,” Votto added. “But we’re not going to quit, not just going to fold, none of that sort of perspective. But that’s the way it is going to be. We’ll have to come back in games. It’s the only chance we have.”
The Reds began their comeback with four runs in the third inning, with Votto hitting his first home run.
The four home runs was the offense. The bullpen did the rest after the damage done to Gutierrez. Luis Cessa pitched a 1 2/3 perfect innings with three strikeouts, Lucas Sims pitched a perfect inning with two strikeouts, Michael Lorenzen pitched two perfect innings — 14 up, 14 down.
Ben Gamel doubled to open the ninth off Mychal Givens to end the bullpen’s perfection, but Givens retired the next three to complete the stunning turnaround.
Gutierrez threw in another clunker, his third in his last four starts, and put the Reds in the 5-0 hole.
He gave up back-to-back home runs in the first-inning to Yoshi Tsutsugo and Bryan Reynolds.
And he gave up three more in the third, an inning that began with Gutierrez walking opposing pitcher Dillon Peters on four pitches. Four hits later and it was 5-0.
It was time for the Reds to unleash their thundersticks.
Pirates pitcher Peters retired Tucker Barnhart and Gutierrez to open the inning and he had two strikes on Jonathan India.
But he walked India, Farmer singled and Nick Castellanos doubled off the center field wall for two runs. Votto then pulled his first homer of the game into the right field seats, cutting Pittsburgh’s lead to 5-4.
“I thought Jonathan India’s at bat with two outs in that third inning was a pivotal at bat,” Votto said of India’s full-count walk that launched the inning. “We’re going to do this together.”
Pittsburgh relief pitcher Cody Ponce struck out Farmer and Castellanos to start the fifth, but Votto unloaded again, peppering the right field seats with his third home run in his last three official at bats to tie it, 5-5.
Next up, Eugenio Suarez. He fouled off four straight pitches and on a 3-and-2 count he drilled one over the left-center wall to give the Reds a 6-5 lead.
“Now that was exciting,” said Votto. “Perfect. My man (Suarez). I want to see him do well and it was such a clutch home run, such a beautiful swing at a meaningful time.”
Farmer lofted a one-out home run, the team’s fourth of the night, with one out in the seventh for a 7-5 lead and the Reds added a couple more in the late going. It all added up to Cincinnati’s 13th straight victory in GABP over the Pirates.
Votto had three hits and two walks and has been on base in his last seven straight plate appearances and 11 times in his last 13 trips to home plate.
Castellanos had three hits, scored two runs and drove in three. Farmer and and Suarez contributed two hits to Cincinnati’s 11-hit attack.
Asked how much he pays attention to the standings, Votto said, “Yeah, I am. But we have to take care of business here. We have to do our thing and that’s what we plan on doing. It can be fun, for sure, but we’re not where we’d like to be. We just have to play good ball, that’s it.”