NEW YORK -- The Reds could have downplayed the meaning all they wanted on Wednesday night. But if they had lost to the Mets the way they were about to, it would have stung, and it would have stung badly. Reliever Chris Hammond could only put his hands on his knees when he watched Jose Valentin's two-run homer wipe out a Reds lead in the seventh. By the top of the ninth, he could have dropped to those knees and said, "Thank you" to Brandon Phillips.
The second baseman hit a two-out, two-run single off Billy Wagner in the top of the ninth that gave Cincinnati a 6-5 comeback win. "When you can pick your team up like that and just get a win, especially against a good team like the Mets, that's always a plus," Phillips said. The Reds were down to their final out against Wagner (3-1) when Austin Kearns reached on a five-pitch walk. Pinch-hitter David Ross kept the team alive when he drew a full-count walk. Pinch-hitter Rich Aurilia hit soft squib that rolled up the third-base line and stayed fair for an infield single that loaded the bases. Phillips took a fastball in the upper 90s from Wagner for a called strike. He swung at two high fastballs, fouling the second one off. Down to his last strike, and with 49,758 noisy Mets fans on their feet at Shea Stadium, he lined the fourth pitch into center field for a two-run single. "If he had thrown me one more high pitch, I know I would have struck out," Phillips admitted. "But he threw it a little bit lower, and I got the head out and I ended up getting a line drive to center field. I was thankful. I was real crunked, which means I was happy." Cincinnati moved to within four games of the Cardinals in the National League Central standings when St. Louis lost to the White Sox, 13-5. "If you ask anybody in this locker room, they'd like to be four or five games back less than a month before the All-Star break," Ross said. "I don't know one person who would turn that down." Overshadowed was a good six-inning performance from Joe Mays, who was making his first start for the Reds. Mays allowed two earned runs and eight hits with two walks and five strikeouts. He began his night by allowing a leadoff homer in the first inning to Jose Reyes, who went on to hit for the cycle, and escaped jams in the fourth and fifth innings with only one more run crossing the plate. "Man, he pitched extremely well for us," Narron said. "He probably threw about 10 more pitches  than we would have liked. We would have liked to have had him out at around 90. He did a great job." Mays left with a 4-2 lead, but his potential winning decision was erased quickly when Hammond took over in the seventh. The Mets made solid contact on every pitch from Hammond, with Carlos Beltran's one-out double off the left-field wall starting a rally. With two outs, David Wright hit an RBI single to center field. Valentin followed by smoking a first-pitch offering 430 feet over the center-field fence for a two-run homer that put the Reds down, 5-4. "It hurt a little bit," Phillips admitted. "It's all about picking each other up. The game is not over. Baseball is a funny game." It was another black eye for the bullpen, which has given up eight earned runs in the last two games. Reds relievers have an 8.32 ERA over the last 12 games and own a 5.07 ERA for the season. In his first appearance since his callup from Triple-A Louisville on Monday, Jason Standridge issued a one-out walk and a single that gave Reyes his cycle. Standridge survived when Paul Lo Duca hit a sharp line drive to first base, with Scott Hatteberg touching first base to get the double play. Narron immediately thought of a conversation he had with pitching coach Tom Hume and their relievers on Monday. "Humie and I had [Kent Mercker] and Hammond, [David] Weathers and [Todd] Coffey in here the first day," Narron explained. "They said, 'At some point, we're going to get a line drive hit right at somebody. And somebody in the bullpen is going to turn the whole thing around.' And Jason Standridge got a double-play line drive." But it was Phillips who gave the Reds a win. Coffey survived allowing a leadoff walk in the ninth for his fifth save -- and first since June 7. It was an important win, especially heading into Thursday afternoon's game against the always-challenging Pedro Martinez. The Reds now have a chance to leave town winners of three of four games in the series. "I really don't think we're going to go away," Narron said. "It's a long season. You're going to have a lot of ups and downs. We would like to be more consistent, no question about that." "This is a hitting team," Phillips said. "We can do everything, especially being in a mess like that, it gives us more confidence that we can beat anybody in this league."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.