CINCINNATI (AP) — Jeff Locke broke into a grin before taking any questions.
“Happy to be back,” the left-hander said.
No one’s happier than the Pittsburgh Pirates, who used their formula from a highly successful first half — great pitching, just enough scoring — to salvage the final game of their series with Cincinnati Reds on Sunday. Locke allowed only an infield single through six innings of a 3-2 victory.
Second-place Pittsburgh left town with a three-game cushion over the NL Central-rival Reds, who won the first two games.
“There’s still a lot of games left, but to get this final game is big,” said Garrett Jones, who homered off Homer Bailey. “Every game matters.”
Locke (9-2) and the majors’ second-stingiest bullpen limited the Reds to three singles, but issued seven walks and let a run score on a wild pitch. Jason Grilli worked the ninth for his 30th save in 31 chances. His only blown save came in Cincinnati on June 19.
Locke had to miss his last scheduled start and couldn’t pitch in the All-Star game because of a sore back. There were no problems when he got back on the mound.
“The back was great,” Locke said.
Bailey (5-9) struck out a career-high 12 but remained winless since his no-hitter against San Francisco at Great American Ball Park this month. Jones hit his second homer in two games, and the Pirates added a pair of runs in the seventh.
“That was the best I’ve ever seen Bailey,” Jones said. “His velocity was up, his cutter was nasty and he was hitting his spots well.”
The Pirates hit six homers during the series, all solo shots. It underscored their main concern as trade talks intensify: Can they score enough runs to make the playoffs?
“I’m just one of the pieces that need to pick it up,” said Jones, who has 10 homers after hitting a career-high 27 last year. “I had a slow first half and this is the time to hit and be productive and help your team win.”
The Ohio River rivals don’t meet again until September, when they play each other six times in the last nine games. Both hope they have a lot at stake when they get back together — the Reds trying for a second straight NL Central title, the Pirates trying to end their 20-year streak of losing records and reach the postseason for the first time since 1992.
They came away from their weekend series bunched a bit closer in their chase of division-leading St. Louis.
Bailey threw the first of his two no-hitters last Sept. 28 in Pittsburgh, a 1-0 win over a team he has dominated during his career. He threw his second no-hitter on July 2. Since then, he’s started three games — two on the road — and gone 0-3 with a 5.50 ERA.
Locke’s performance was encouraging for the Pirates, who have stayed in contention despite injuries in the rotation. Shin-Soo Choo’s infield single in the first inning extended his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games.
Locke walked a pair and threw a wild pitch that let in a run in the fifth inning. He lowered his ERA to 2.11.
“What did he leave with, one hit?” manager Clint Hurdle said. “That’s good stuff.”
The Reds got another run in the eighth when Joey Votto grounded into a double play with the bases loaded against Mark Melancon, ending the reliever’s streak of 15 scoreless innings. It was Cincinnati’s best chance to pull off the three-game sweep.
“It hurts when you have opportunities like that,” manager Dusty Baker said. “You hope you’re going to blow it open.”
First baseman Gaby Sanchez, a late defensive replacement, started the double play, with Melancon covering first to take the relay and finish it.
“That’s as good a double play as we’ve made all year in a tight situation,” Hurdle said.
Pittsburgh scored twice in the seventh on Jordy Mercer’s single and Jose Tabata’s pinch-hit single off Bailey, who threw 121 pitches.
NOTES: The Pirates continue their 10-game trip with the first of four games in Washington. The Reds begin an 11-game trip to San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. They’re in a stretch of playing 18 of 21 on the road. … Bailey fanned 10 during his no-hitter in Pittsburgh and nine during his no-hitter against the Giants. … The Reds plan to call up RHP Greg Reynolds from Triple-A Louisville to start one of their doubleheader games in San Francisco on Tuesday. Reynolds, a California native who played at Stanford, started 16 games for Colorado in 2008 and 2011.
Reds 5, Pirates 4
CINCINNATI (AP) — Joey Votto drove in a pair of runs, and Shin-Soo Choo extended his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games on Saturday, leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates that revolved around an early rain delay.
The third-place Reds have won the first two games in the NL Central series, closing their gap with second-place Pittsburgh to two games. The Ohio River rivals have split their 12 games this season.
Cincinnati’s Mat Latos (9-3) and Pittsburgh’s A.J. Burnett (4-7) had a tough time finding their control after a 1-hour, 17-minute delay in the middle of the first inning. Aroldis Chapman escaped a two-on threat in the ninth for his 23rd save in 26 chances.
Latos gave up three runs in only five innings. Travis Snider’s pinch-hit RBI double cut it to 5-4 in the eighth, but Logan Ondrusek got Jose Tabata to ground out with the bases loaded, ending the rally.
Chapman gave up an infield single by Andrew McCutchen to open the ninth and made a wild pickoff throw. Shortstop Zack Cozart misplayed Pedro Alvaraez’s grounder for Cincinnati’s third error, leaving runners on first and third.
The All-Star closer got a pop-up, then fanned Michael McKenry and Jordy Mercer to end it.
Choo had a double and a single, extending the longest streak by a Reds player this season.
Thirteen minutes after the first pitch, the umpires called for the tarp when a gust of wind blew through Great American Ball Park with Burnett warming up. Several members of the grounds crew were blown off their feet while wrestling the tarp into place.
Burnett had a rough time getting re-started, allowing four runs right away. Three of them were set up by Mercer’s fielding error at second base. Votto got his 500th career RBI on the error, Brandon Phillips singled home a run, Cozart hit a sacrifice fly and Devin Mesoraco doubled for a 4-0 lead.
Latos struck out to end the nine-batter inning — an hour and a half after he’d thrown his last pitch. Then, just like Burnett, Latos struggled to find his touch. Garrett Jones homered and Cozart’s errant throw at shortstop let in a run in the second.
McCutchen hit a solo homer in the fourth, his third homer in his last four games. Eleven of his 12 homers have been solos. The Pirates have five homers in the first two games of the series, all solo shots.
Burnett didn’t allow another run until the sixth, when he walked Votto with the bases loaded on his 109th and final pitch.
Cincinnati’s Jack Hannahan and Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte were hit by pitches, making it 21 batters plunked during the teams’ season series. It’s the most for any season series in the majors.