Tyler Mahle pitches six shutout innings, Cincinnati Reds avoid being swept by Pirates

Bobby Nightengale
Cincinnati Enquirer

PITTSBURGH – Asdrúbal Cabrera remains hitless in 18 at-bats since the Cincinnati Reds claimed him off waivers, but he won a game with one of his swings.

Cabrera, pinch-hitting in the pitcher’s spot in the seventh inning with two runners in scoring position and one out, lifted a first-pitch curveball into left-center field for a sacrifice fly. He drove in the game’s first run Thursday – and the only run.

Tyler Mahle pitched six shutout innings and the Reds’ bullpen covered the rest in a 1-0 victory at PNC Park to avoid being swept by the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds ended a four-game losing streak and they are one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild-card spot with 15 games left.  

"I know we had a tough week, but I still believe in this team," Cabrera said. "The good thing that I like about this team is they’re always working together like a family, and that’s a really important thing when you want to be in the postseason."

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Sep 16, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Cincinnati Reds pinch hitter Asdrubal Cabrera (3) hits a sacrifice fly RBI against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Reds shutout the Pirates 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Reds didn’t do themselves any favors with a 3-6 record on their road trip against the Pirates, Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. They’ve dropped seven consecutive series, the franchise’s longest series losing streak since losing eight straight in Aug. 2015. Next up is a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers where the Reds will face Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw.

Buehler and Scherzer are Cy Young candidates. Kershaw returned from the 60-day injured list last week, but the Reds have struggled against left-handed pitchers.

"If anything, our guys are caring a little bit too much and you'll take that every single time," Reds manager David Bell said, "because that's what it takes. That'll balance out. To be able to play in these games is really special to us. We just want to keep them going and we believe it's going to continue."

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Sep 16, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) tags Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Ben Gamel (18) out at home plate attempting to score during the second inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates made it a bullpen game for their pitching staff, but the Reds didn't have a runner touch third base until the seventh inning. Tyler Stephenson missed a homer by a few feet to begin the seventh, drilling a double off the 21-foot-high right-field wall. 

After Kyle Farmer drew a walk, Bell called for a rare sacrifice bunt by a non-pitcher with Shogo Akiyama at the plate. 

"You did get the sense in that game that one run could be huge," Bell said.

Akiyama, who hit a double in the second inning and struck out in a 12-pitch at-bat in the fourth, dropped a sacrifice bunt down the first-base line. It looked like there was a chance it would've rolled foul, but first baseman Colin Moran took the sure out at first base. 

Next up was Cabrera, who swung at the first pitch he saw from Pirates reliever Cody Ponce. It was deep enough to advance both runners, easily scoring pinch-runner Delino DeShields. Cabrera had a line of high-fives waiting for him in the dugout.

"It doesn't always take a hit," Bell said. "It just takes a quality at-bat."

Sep 16, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Cincinnati Reds pinch runner Delino DeShields (26) is congratulated by left fielder Max Schrock (32) after DeSheilds scored a run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Reds shutout the Pirates 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Reds totaled five hits, went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left seven on base.

And with their pitching Thursday, that was a winning formula.  

Mahle allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in each of the first four innings, but he was masterful at pitching out of jams. He had two runners on base and one out in the first inning. Before throwing a full-count pitch to Moran, he picked Ke’Bryan Hayes off second base.

"We literally just talked about it," Mahle said. "I had seen a couple of guys get picked off in the last couple of games. I knew they were kind of aggressive. I talked to (Jonathan) India and (Kyle) Farmer and I was like, ‘hey, we’re going to do this.'" 

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There was a runner on third base with one out in the second inning. Mahle induced a ground ball with the infield drawn in, and India tossed out Ben Gamel at the plate. Two more runners were stranded in the third inning and Mahle erased a leadoff single in the fourth with a double play.

Mahle owns a 1.85 ERA in 17 road starts, the second-lowest road ERA in the Majors. He has a 6.09 ERA in 13 home starts, though he’s maintained all year it’s more coincidence than any deeper reason.

"He grows on you," Bell said. "His personality is so consistent. His presence on the mound is, even though he's so competitive and tough, he's really calm all the time. He knows he can pitch out of situations, he knows he can make pitches, he knows he has the stuff, particularly the fastball that he can go to in any situation."

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Sep 16, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Ben Gamel (18) dives but can not catch a ball hit by Cincinnati Reds center fielder Shogo Akiyama (not pictured) for a double during the second inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The expectation, of course, was the Reds should’ve beat up on the Pirates. They had nine of their final 18 games against a team nearing 100 losses. Now, they've fallen out of the driver's seat and lost their margin for error heading into a series against the defending champion Dodgers. 

Mychal Givens walked two batters with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning. The tying run advanced to third base on a flyout and the potential game-winning run moved to second on an uncontested stolen base. 

Givens fell into a 3-0 count to Hoy Park, but he refused to give in. He came back for a game-ending strikeout on a 98-mph fastball, unleashing a yell and fist pump in celebration. 

He was a part of the losing play in Wednesday's loss when Wilmer Difo scored from second base on a putout at first. 

"It was a fluke for me," Givens said. "My job is to forget stuff like that. Being a guy they brought in as a veteran guy to even show the younger guys in our clubhouse, ‘hey, stuff happens like that.’ You wake up the next day. They look up to me in the bullpen. Don’t need to dwell on the past."

As the Reds attempt a final push for the playoffs, they're trying to put their recent past behind them, too.