Choo's walk-off single sends Reds to postseason
Cueto proves he's ready as Cincy clinches berth with win, Nats' loss
CINCINNATI -- The Reds now know for sure they are going to the postseason, but they have a couple of mysteries to solve before they make some final decisions. Perhaps Johnny Cueto cleared one of them up on Monday night.
Cueto made a big stride in showing that he could be the pitcher that starts the club off in October, no matter where or how it begins in the playoffs.
While Cueto did not figure in the decision, a 3-2 Reds win over the Mets came on Shin-Soo Choo's walk-off single in the 10th inning. Moments later, the Pirates won their game vs. the Cubs and the Cardinals eliminated the Nationals from postseason contention with a victory.
That meant the Reds and Pirates, both 90-67 and in second place in the National League Central, are joining the first-place Cardinals in the playoffs. St. Louis maintained its two-game division lead.
"I was pulling for the Nationals to win so we could get one step closer to the Cardinals," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We wanted the Pirates to lose, but we're tied with them. We wanted the Cardinals to lose. We've still got five big games to go."
Hot when they need to be the most in the final week of the season, the Reds have won six of their last seven games. Cueto, who has been part of two of those victories in his first two games back from the disabled list, gave his team seven strong innings, allowing two runs -- one earned -- on three hits, with three walks and five strikeouts while throwing 99 pitches.
"I felt normal," Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera. "Actually I talked to Dusty after that last inning and I told him, 'I want to go, I want to go out one more inning. I can pitch the eighth inning.' But because I had close to 100 pitches, he said, 'No, no. That's it. That's enough for you.'"
The Reds are still trying to figure out a postseason rotation and where exactly Cueto might fit. Last Monday in his first start since June 28 -- when a strained right lat muscle put him on the disabled list for the third time -- Cueto dealt a young Astros lineup five scoreless innings on 82 pitches for a win.
Baker was clearly impressed with what he's seen from Cueto thus far. When asked about Cueto's potential placement on the postseason roster, Baker coyly smiled and paused.
"We'll see," Baker said.
New York's lineup presented a higher degree of difficulty for Cueto. Of his three hits allowed, one was on a bunt. None of the walks he issued came back to haunt him. Cueto felt he could start either the Wild Card game or Game 1 of the Division Series.
"They're the ones who decide, they're the ones who have the control to do it. But I feel good. I feel that I can do that," Cueto said.
Against ex-Reds ace Aaron Harang, the Reds took a 2-0 lead in the second but missed out on a bigger inning. Todd Frazier started the rally with a leadoff double to right-center field and was held at third base on a one-out single by Ryan Hanigan to center field. Choo's two-out RBI single and a bases loaded walk by Joey Votto got the runs in.
Cueto's third inning started when Harang reached on Frazier's two-base throwing error into the first-base camera pit. Later in the inning, Harang scored on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda. Cueto retired nine in a row until Duda returned in the sixth inning with a two-out solo home run to right field that made it a 2-2 game. In the seventh, Cueto gave up a one-out walk but escaped without trouble.
"The other guys have pitched great, but Johnny was the man. Nothing against anybody else, but Johnny has a longer and greater track record," Baker said. "It was a matter of endurance and Johnny got too close to 100 pitches tonight. He trained hard to get to this point. He has a strong mind, which is a lot of it."
Reliever Sam LeCure started the eighth by giving up singles to Eric Young Jr. and Daniel Murphy. After David Wright looked at strike three for the first out, lefty Sean Marshall was called in to face the left-handed Duda.
Handed his first pressure situation since returning from the disabled list last week, Marshall induced a 4-6-3 double play and escaped. Waiting at the top step with a bear hug for Marshall was LeCure. Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the top of the ninth inning.
Choo led off the ninth with a double to center field off Tim Byrdak and stole third base with no outs and David Aardsma pitching to Brandon Phillips. Extra innings came after the Reds could not get Choo home, as Phillips, Ryan Ludwick and Frazier all missed opportunities around intentional walks to Votto with one out and Jay Bruce with two outs that loaded the bases.
In the 10th, late substitute Devin Mesoraco hit a one-out single off the glove of a diving Wright at third base. Derrick Robinson, who entered in the top of the 10th in a double switch, followed with a single into right field that put runners on the corners.
Lefty Sean Henn was called on to face Choo, who hit the second pitch off the top of the wall in left field, just missing a homer. Ruled a single, it didn't matter, as Mesoraco cruised home with the game-winning run.
Choo, who missed the previous two games at Pittsburgh with a jammed left thumb, was pleased he could contribute again when it's needed most.
"We have five games left and every game is very important for us. I want to help the team," Choo said.