NEW CASTLE —
Billy Hamilton remains perfect on the basepaths. The Cincinnati Reds remain perfect with their speedy rookie outfielder in the starting lineup.
The combination could prove potent during the final week of the regular season, and maybe beyond.
Hamilton got three hits and stole two more bases and the Reds routed Pittsburgh 11-3 yesterday to tie the Pirates for the NL wild-card lead. Batting right behind Hamilton, Chris Heisey had three hits and two RBIs as the Reds won two of three to pull even with the scuffling Pirates.
“Those guys set up some big innings,” Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. “You need guys in your lineup to drive in runs but it’s just as important to have guys to get on base so they can be driven in.”
The Reds and Pirates each have magic numbers of two to close out Washington and clinch a playoff spot. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh trail NL Central leader St. Louis by 2 1/2 games, pending the Cardinals’ night game at Milwaukee.
Jay Bruce hit a three-run double and Todd Frazier followed with a homer that capped a five-run burst in the first inning. Bronson Arroyo (14-11) made it stand up, lasting five innings to win for the first time in nearly a month. The Reds won for the fifth time in six games to head home for a season-ending six-game homestand with some serious momentum.
“We knew it was an important series, they knew it was an important and our guys responded and jumped them early in this one,” Baker said. “It was a good win for us, an important win.”
Neil Walker hit his 13th homer of the season, but Pittsburgh stumbled in its home finale. The Pirates have lost five of seven and will have to clinch its first postseason berth in 21 years on the road. Pittsburgh begins a six-game road trip today in Chicago against the Cubs.
“Today we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole early and they never let up, kept their foot on the gas pedal,” Walker said. “We have to continue to play good baseball and things will go our way.”
They’re certainly going Hamilton’s way at the moment. His presence has given the Reds a needed late-season jolt. He was at it again yesterday, easily taking second base in the second inning and doing it again in the sixth. Hamilton is 12 for 12 on swipe tries since his late-season promotion from Triple-A and is 6 for 14 and has scored nine times as a major leaguer.
Bruce had four RBIs and Chris Heisey added three hits while driving in two runs.
Jeff Locke (10-7) was tagged in the first inning and didn’t come out for the second.
After morphing from fifth starter to improbable All-Star, Locke fell to 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA in the second half of the season. Locke’s next turn in the rotation is scheduled for Saturday in Cincinnati, but an off-day on Thursday gives the Pirates some flexibility with their rotation for a series that could have serious playoff implications.
After Bruce doubled to the gap in left-center field, Frazier followed with his 18th homer, a two-run shot to the deepest part of PNC Park.
“Everything happened pretty fast,” Locke said. “A hit a few walks, a big hit by Bruce, and the homer by Frazier and before you know it Arroyo was my last hitter. I think you try to avoid the big inning and unfortunately the big inning was the first inning.”
Cincinnati pushed its advantage to 7-0 in the second on an RBI double by Heisey and a sacrifice fly from Brandon Phillips off reliever Jeanmar Gomez.
Staked to such a huge cushion, Arroyo worked quickly if not exactly effectively. Walker hit his third homer in four games leading off the third and pinch-hitter Travis Snider did the same in the fifth.
Pittsburgh’s best chance to make it close came later in that inning when Walker’s double put runners in scoring position with no outs. Arroyo surrendered only a sacrifice fly by Justin Morneau that made it 7-3. The veteran right-hander gave up three runs on five hits in five innings, walking two and striking out three.