HOUSTON -- No matter how Sunday's series finale turned out vs. the Astros, the Reds' nine-game, three-city road trip through St. Louis, Kansas City and Houston was already an unqualified success. Anything more would be gravy.
And who doesn't like gravy? The Reds clearly do, as they took a 9-7 victory in 10 innings to earn a three-game series sweep from Houston, the defending World Series champions, at Minute Maid Park.
“I think it’s a perfect depiction of the mindset we have. It’s never enough," said left fielder Jake Fraley, who returned from the injured list Sunday with two hits, including a second-inning home run. "We’re trying to keep our foot on the gas pedal. To be able to do that against a team like that on the road is huge."
The victory extended the Reds’ winning streak to eight games to finish the road trip 8-1, while winning 11 of their last 13 games as they improved to 37-35. In the National League Central race, they remain a half-game behind first-place Milwaukee.
“You always want more, right?" said first baseman Spencer Steer, who hit a two-run homer to make it a 5-5 game in the sixth inning. "It doesn’t matter how many wins you’ve got in a row, how many losses you’ve got in a row, you’ve got to approach every game the same way -- just play to win.”
The magic the Reds have conjured lately has shown no sign of dissipating, and Sunday's win was as hard-fought as any during their streak. Starter Luke Weaver was hit hard often, and Cincinnati had to play catch-up much of the day with deficits of 2-0 after one inning and 5-2 by the fourth. Closer Alexis Díaz was also unavailable for the second straight game, which also carried consequences.
“Today was an imperfect game. We overcame mistakes with a lot of great play. That’s what it’s all about," Reds manager David Bell said. "To be able to stay with it, play the same way no matter what, that’s how you do it. That’s how it’s supposed to feel, the way we feel right now. We’ve got to hold on to that and just keep going.”
In the top of the 10th inning against Seth Martinez, TJ Friedl dropped a sacrifice bunt to third base and reached on a throwing error by Alex Bregman that allowed Nick Senzel to score the go-ahead run from second base. Friedl tagged up and went to third base on a good hustle play on Matt McLain's flyout to right field.
After India was hit by a pitch, Elly De La Cruz worked a nine-pitch at-bat vs. Martinez before lining an RBI single to right field that plated Friedl. Fraley's RBI groundout provided a three-run cushion. Lefty reliever Alex Young allowed a run in the bottom of the 10th but earned his first career save.
“I think the magic you see is just the culture that’s created," Fraley said. "It’s not like a special thing that comes out of nowhere. I think you guys are seeing what’s been specifically worked on and trying to cultivate since Spring Training started and quite honestly, since towards the end of last year.”
The rise has been a rapid one for the Reds. On April 23, they were 7-15 and a season-high 8 1/2 games out of first place. In the 50 games since, they've gone 30-20.
As recently as their last loss on June 9, the road trip opener at St. Louis, the Reds were five games back in third place.
Returning home to Great American Ball Park, the Reds will have some challenges on their upcoming six-game homestand that begins Monday vs. the Rockies. Colorado is in last place in the National League West but was the last club to hand the Reds a road series loss, when it took two of three games from May 15-17.
After the Rockies, a three-game series looms vs. a Braves club that owns the NL's best record.
“It seems like everybody's coming together, and it’s somebody new every night. We’re just having fun out there," Steer said. "I feel like we’re just a bunch of kids out there playing every night.”