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'Momentum is real' for Reds, who sweep DH

@m_sheldon
September 15, 2020

CINCINNATI -- If the Reds are going to play their best baseball of the shortened 2020 season, why not now when they really need wins to make the postseason? If there was any doubt players sensed they were close, it was erased when Mike Moustakas crushed a big three-run homer

CINCINNATI -- If the Reds are going to play their best baseball of the shortened 2020 season, why not now when they really need wins to make the postseason?

If there was any doubt players sensed they were close, it was erased when Mike Moustakas crushed a big three-run homer in the fifth inning for a 9-4 come-from-behind win over the Pirates in Game 2 to sweep both games of a doubleheader on Monday. The roar from the dugout could be heard throughout Great American Ball Park when the drive cleared the center-field wall.

Box score

“It was as excited as I've seen our team. I think our team understands, clearly understands what we're playing for right now,” Reds manager David Bell said. “The dugout was -- we felt it. We felt that we had an opportunity to win another game and we understand how important and big every one is right now.”

In Game 1, rookie Tyler Stephenson hit a two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh inning to secure a 3-1 victory for the Reds.

Written off by many as recently as last week, Cincinnati is now firmly back in the playoff hunt with a 23-26 record. The club -- which hasn’t been to the postseason since 2013 and endured six straight losing seasons -- has won three games in a row, four of its last five and five of the last seven.

“I was as energized as I could be to come to the ballpark and to hopefully win two games, make some progress, and we did today. It was really great,” said Joey Votto, who hit homers in both games.

With 11 games remaining in the season, the Reds are 1 1/2 games out of second place in the National League Central and one game out of a NL Wild Card spot.

“The momentum is real,” Bell said.

Reds Game 2 starter Anthony DeSclafani blew a 3-2 lead by allowing Ke’Bryan Hayes’ two-run homer in the top of the fifth. DeSclafani gave up a walk after the homer and was lifted for reliever José De León, who walked two batters to load the bases and left with a groin injury. Bell turned to Sal Romano, who was just recalled from the taxi squad on Sunday to make his season debut.

Romano got the out by getting Gregory Polanco to hit a pop-up to third base.

“Huge. That’s a momentum swinger for us right there, keeping the score where it was at,” Moustakas said.

Nick Senzel comes off IL for Reds' doubleheader

In the bottom of the fifth with two outs, lefty reliever Nik Turley walked righty hitter Eugenio Suárez and faced Moustakas. A .219 hitter entering Game 2, Moustakas lifted a 2-0 Turley pitch to center field. With an exit velocity of 105.5 mph, it cleared the fence and had room to spare as the Reds’ dugout erupted with shouts.

“Moments like that, swings like that are the reason why we signed him,” Votto said. “He’s done that for the Royals, obviously, and he seemed to have gotten even better with the Brewers. We hope for the trend to continue here.”

Moustakas has 16 homers in 39 career games vs. the Pirates.

“It’s obviously huge to get some momentum going into this last little stretch,” Moustakas said. “Obviously, every game counts. Every game counted in the beginning of the season, but we’re here now. We have to keep going out and finding ways to win each night and keep finding ways to score runs.”

Entering the first game of the twin bill, the Reds had a Major League-leading 59.6 percent of their runs come via home runs. On Monday, all three runs in the first game and six of the nine in Game 2 came via homers. Cincinnati plated three runs in the bottom of the sixth without notching another hit.

Moustakas is one of several hitters who have struggled throughout the season. Another, Shogo Akiyama, is heating up at the right time as well. In his last six games, Akiyama is hitting .360 (9-for-25) with eight walks -- mostly from the leadoff spot. Votto has a six-game hitting streak with three homers.

“I haven’t been excited for baseball going down the stretch in a long time, and that’s not a good thing,” said Votto, who tied Hall of Famer Barry Larkin for fifth on the club’s all-time list with 960 RBIs. “It feels so good to be playing meaningful games, because if anybody were to throw a uniform on and play any sport, be competitive in anything, it feels so much better to feel like you have a shot, to feel like the games are meaningful, to feel like you’re playing in front of people that care. It feels great.”

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.