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Reds belt trio of homers to win Opening Series

Pitchers set club record with 36 strikeouts in set, stifle Angels' Big 3

CINCINNATI -- Before the Reds played their Opening Series finale vs. the Angels on Thursday, it was mentioned to manager Dusty Baker by a certain reporter that his opponent's big hitters -- Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton -- hadn't really contributed much yet.

Baker kind of hates it when reporters do that.

"We want them to get out of town before they wake up," Baker said.

The dreaded Angels offensive trio did show some signs life, but not enough to ruin the Reds' day. Cincinnati claimed a 5-4 victory to take two of three in the season's first series at Great American Ball Park.

"Every game was a great game that could have went either way," Baker said.

It was a game victory boosted by the power of three home runs -- one each by Shin-Soo Choo, Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey. But the series as a whole, which began with a 3-1, 13-inning Reds loss on Monday, was claimed on the shoulders of Reds pitchers -- both starters and the bullpen.

The Reds' staff notched nine more strikeouts in the finale and had 36 for the series, a club record for strikeouts in the first three games of a season. It broke the record of 32 set in 1990. It was also a new record for Angels hitters in a three-game series.

Trout finished the series 4-for-15 with five strikeouts, while Hamilton was 1-for-12 with five strikeouts and Pujols -- the former Cardinals main nemesis -- went 1-for-11.

Reds starter Bronson Arroyo did his part as he pitched six innings, allowing three runs and eight hits while walking one and striking out five.

"Albert was obviously a guy who knew me a lot, and he was going to give them some information," said Arroyo, who earned the win. "But they have a lineup that seemingly doesn't change their approach a whole lot. For that reason, we got to exploit a little bit of the weaknesses they showed the last couple of days."

To close it out, closer Aroldis Chapman had to run the gauntlet of the top of the Angels' order -- beginning with Trout -- during his first save attempt. The top of the ninth began when Trout scorched a 1-1 pitch -- a 95-mph fastball -- for a sharp single to left field.

"That's how baseball, for some reason, is. You never face the bottom of the order in the ninth," Baker said. "You've got to face the 3-4-5 or 1-2-3. You really hate when Trout gets on. This guy can do a lot of things."

After an Erick Aybar sacrifice bunt that Chapman briefly bobbled before getting the out at first base, Pujols lined a 96-mph first pitch to right field for the second out.

That left Hamilton, who looked at a 97-mph fastball for a strike. He fouled off the next two pitches, including a weak half swing at a 99-mph 0-2 pitch. Hamilton went down swinging at a 98-mph fastball on the outer half of the plate to end the game.

"It doesn't look like 98, 99," Hamilton said. "I've faced guys who throw 94 and it looks harder than that. But it just kind of comes out of nowhere. It's kind of weird. That makes it challenging. ... I couldn't figure out where his arm slot was. That's a problem. You just try to look in a general area."

Against Angels starter Joe Blanton, leadoff homers in the first and second inning by Choo and Frazier made it a 2-0 game, with Choo clubbing the first pitch he saw for his first Reds long ball. Los Angeles evened the game in the third as Pujols' first hit of the season, a double to left field, put runners on second and third base. Hamilton followed with his first hit and RBIs of the year when his single scored Aybar and Pujols.

Frazier doubled and scored from third base on Ryan Hanigan's sacrifice fly in the fourth, while Pujols got his first RBI in the fifth with a sac fly that scored Trout. Heisey lifted a two-run homer to left field to keep the Reds ahead, but Angels pitchers retired the final 12 batters in a row.

Cincinnati also didn't get much production from Joey Votto or Jay Bruce. Votto was 1-for-10 in the series, with Wednesday's game-winning RBI single. Bruce was 1-for-13 with seven strikeouts, and he stranded 14 runners on base.

Therefore, solid Reds pitching became even more critical.

"We had excellent pitching against these guys," Baker said. "You have to do that because these guys have some tremendous players over there. You feel very fortunate to win two out of three. They're a good team, and that says a lot about the team that we have."

Reliever Alfredo Simon gave up two hits that led to a run in the seventh to make it a one-run game. Then Sam LeCure enjoyed a sensational eighth in which he struck out the side to net the staff's new strikeout record.

"You see the strikeouts. I always look up to see how many we have," Frazier said. "It's pretty sweet to see these guys going down from top to bottom against these top three [starters] we've got. It's exciting to play against. You know you're going to get your ground balls, and it's exciting to beat a team like the Angels. It's pretty nice to start off the year with two out of three."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
Read More: Cincinnati Reds, Shin-Soo Choo, Aroldis Chapman, Sam LeCure, Bronson Arroyo, Todd Frazier, Chris Heisey