Reds set up sweep against Bucs

Reds set up sweep against Bucs

PITTSBURGH -- "Hey Casey," the Pirates fan screamed from the upper deck at PNC Park in the ninth inning on Sunday. "I don't care where you're from. You still stink!"

Pittsburgh native Sean Casey didn't hear the catcall. But he responded, nevertheless, taking John Grabow's very next pitch 457 feet out to center field for a two-run home run that put the final stamp on the Reds' 7-2 win over the Pirates.

"That's great," Casey said when informed of what had transpired. "That's classic. You gotta love when that happens."

The Reds have a lot to love about the way they're playing lately.

They've responded from their well-documented struggles of the season's first half much in the same way Casey responded to that jeering fan.

After sitting in either fifth or sixth place in the National League Central for 115 consecutive days, they have moved themselves into a tie for fourth with the Cubs this weekend.

More importantly, the club's four straight wins and six wins in seven games has placed them just six games below the .500 mark.

"Who would have thought that a couple months ago?" Casey said with a laugh.

Not many. Then again, not many could have predicted the starting pitching staff would gel quite as well as it has in recent weeks.

Over the last 21 games, Reds starters have gone 14-7 with a 3.26 ERA and 17 quality starts.

On this day, right-hander Luke Hudson was the one keeping that run of success going. He lasted six innings, allowing a lone run on three hits with four walks and seven strikeouts.

Backed by a fourth-inning solo home run from Ken Griffey Jr. that made it a 1-1 game, the steadily improving Hudson kept his team in a position to win.

When the Pirates loaded the bases against him with two outs in the fifth, he caught Craig Wilson looking at a two-strike curveball to end the threat.

"I was able to execute those pitches when I had to," Hudson said. "I had a little bit of a harder time with my curveball than I did my last time out. But I was able to get that curveball over for strike three."

But in order for Hudson (6-6, 6.36 ERA) to get the win after leaving the game in a 1-1 tie, the Reds had to come through with some support for him in the seventh. And that's just what they did.

Felipe Lopez's RBI double off Kip Wells gave the Reds a 2-1 lead. They added to it by loading the bases for Adam Dunn, who drew a walk off Mike Gonzalez to bring in another run.

Now the game was in the hands of the bullpen, which has converted its last eight save opportunities. But Jason Standridge let the Pirates back in it by serving up a solo shot to Humberto Cota in the seventh, and the Pirates went on to put runners at first and second with two outs.

This game, though, was clearly in the Reds' hands after the at-bat that came next. Matt Belisle was brought in to face Jason Bay, and as he did so, catcher Jason LaRue caught Freddy Sanchez trying to steal third.

"I hope no one overlooks Jason LaRue with the caught stealing at third base," manager Jerry Narron said. "That was a crucial play in the ballgame."

Once Belisle sent Bay down swinging, the Reds were well on their way to beating the Pirates for the third time in as many days. They sealed the victory with a two-run eighth against Brian Meadows that included pinch-hitter Jacob Cruz's RBI double and Lopez's sacrifice fly.

By the time Casey silenced that critical fan with his ninth-inning blast, the win was all but in the books.

And if the Reds have one goal over the course of what remains of this '05 season, it's to put a winning season in the books.

"I think that's our goal," Casey said. "We want to keep winning, keep playing and, at the end of the year, see where we are. We can do that, no doubt about it. I think we're really looking forward to that challenge."

They certainly know a thing or two about appropriate responses.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.