Johnny Cueto became the first Reds pitcher to win 20 games since Danny Jackson in 1988 when he drove in the go ahead run to start a three run eighth en route to a 4-1 victory over the Pirates on Sunday afternoon at Great American Ballpark.
The loss ensured that the Pirates (88-74) would finish second in the NL Central and clinched the division for St. Louis (90-72) who would have done so anyway when they knocked off the Diamondbacks. Cueto (20-9), one of the lone bright spots over the course of the 2014 season, tossed eight inning of one run baseball with seven strikeouts to pick up his fifth win of the season against Pittsburgh. He joins Clayton Kershaw (21-3, 1.77 ERA) and Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA) as the only 20 game winners in the National League. Cueto finished in the top three in ERA (2nd), wins (Tied-2nd), and strikeouts (T-1st) and led all NL pitchers with 243.2 innings pitched.
In the first inning he worked out of a two-on-two-out jam, but his counter part Gerrit Cole was unable to work out of his jam in the first. Kristopher Negron led the bottom half off with a single and then moved to third on a single by Brandon Phillips. Negron scored on a high chopper off the bat of Todd Frazier, but Josh Harrison was able to save a bigger inning as he made a leaping grab to corral the ground ball and throw out Frazier. Harrison saw his bid for the NL Batting title fall short with an 0-4 day. The Cincinnati native trailed former teammate Justin Morneau of the Rockies by .001 in the race, but Morneau was held out of the lineup to secure the trophy.
The Pirates got their only run off Cueto in the fourth when Neil Walker hit his 23rd homer of the season to deep right. Cole was able to hold the Reds (76-86) to a deadlock as he tossed seven inning of one run baseball and struck out 12 which tied a career best. He was almost in line for the win as the Pirates had Cueto on the ropes in the top of the eighth. Travis Snider doubled and then the speedy Gregory Polanco came on to pinch run. Cueto then plunked Andrew McCutchen much to put two on for the dangerous Walker. He was able to work out of the jam by getting Walker to ground out and inning the inning and what was thought to be the end of his day.
Jason Bourgeois became the second unlikely hero in as many days when he was able to beat out a lead-off triple against All-Star reliever Tony Watson (10-2). After Harrison stole a run with a diving catch at third against Zack Cozart, Cueto came out to drive in the winning run much to the excitement of the crowd. With a full-count Cueto came through and drove in Bourgeois with a single up the middle. On his follow through his bat came crashing down onto the hand of Pirates catcher Chris Stewart, who was 2-3 with two doubles and filling in for an ailing Russel Martin.
With the injury Justin Wilson came on to relieve Watson and Tony Sanchez came in for Stewart. Wilson was rudely welcomed by Negron whose third hit of the day was a blast over the left field wall to secure a three run lead. After a walk and a hit by pitch, Wilson was finally able to get out of the nightmare inning. Aroldis Chapman came out for his 36th save of the season and allowed a leadoff single to Starling Marte, who would also steal second, but would strike out the next three hitters, including the rookie catcher Sanchez to end the game.
The Pirates will move on to the Wild Card game Wednesday at PNC Park against the San Francisco Giants. The Pirates ousted Cueto and the Reds in last year’s Wild Card match-up, while the Giants rallied from a 2-0 deficit in 2012 to eliminate the Reds in the NLDS. The Pirates and Reds will return to Great American Ballpark for Opening Day on April 6 to begin the 2015 campaign.