CINCINNATI -- It's the wicked cycle. A losing team in a hole tries to do anything to get out and succeeds only at making the hole even deeper. After a 5-3 loss to the Astros on Thursday at Great American Ball Park that capped a two-game series sweep and 2-5 homestand, the Reds were mentally searching for ways to exchange their shovels for ladders. "It's easier said than done," said left fielder Adam Dunn, who went 0-for-4. "Everybody needs to take a deep breath. I'm the world's worst at it. You kind of have to just step back. You've been playing this game a long time and it's going to come. But it needs to come now."
It was obvious that the Reds were doing anything and everything to make something happen. It came at their own peril, though. There were only three Cincinnati hits notched over the final six innings, and two of the baserunners got thrown out looking to steal. In the fifth inning, Corey Patterson hit a two-out single against Astros starter Jack Cassel (1-0). With Jerry Hairston batting, Patterson made a late start for second base and stopped halfway. Catcher J.R. Towles easily threw Patterson out scrambling back to first base. "Quite frankly, he wasn't supposed to be stealing," manager Dusty Baker said. "I'll talk to him about it, because I don't know exactly what he was doing. I figured they'd pitch out or something at that point in time knowing we're trying to create some things." "I had a bad jump and knew I was going to be out," Patterson explained. "I just couldn't get back in time. It's one of those things, that once I get going and steal three or four in a row, you'll get in that rhythm. It's a feel for it and then we'll be OK and it won't happen again." In the sixth inning, after Hairston led off with a single, Hairston bolted with lefty reliever Tim Bydrak on the mound, but Hairston was thrown out after a brief rundown. Those miscues only made it tougher on Reds rookie starter Johnny Cueto, while he endured his own tough day. Cueto (1-2) gave up five earned runs and eight hits, with two walks over seven innings. His only two strikeouts came in the first inning. Houston hitters made solid contact on Cueto, especially when he couldn't finish them with two outs. In the first inning, Reds killer Lance Berkman hit a 2-2 pitch into the visitors' bullpen in right field for a two-out, two-run home run and 2-0 Astros lead. Berkman, a .360 lifetime hitter vs. Cincinnati, has hit 18 homers at Great American Ball Park -- the most by a Reds opponent. "Today, that home run was huge for us to get off to a very good start against a young pitcher who's very, very good [and] very talented," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "I hate to think about the fact that he's going to be around in this division for a while. He has a great arm and I don't think he had his best stuff today, but he hung in there with us." The Astros were up, 3-1, on Cassel's lined RBI single when the Reds tied the game in the bottom of the second. After Edwin Encarnacion extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a single, he scored on Scott Hatteberg's RBI double to the wall in left-center field. Paul Bako drove in Hatteberg with an RBI single. In the fifth, Darin Erstad's RBI single scored Hunter Pence and gave Houston the go-ahead run. Erstad scored on Berkman's two-out RBI double to the right-field corner. "My pitches were missing too good. Everything was right in the middle," Cueto said through bullpen coach Juan Lopez, who interpreted. "Next time is going to better. I'm a human being and can make mistakes. But next time, I need to work better on location." After a sensational start and 2.03 ERA through his first two games, Cueto has a 5.40 ERA (20 innings, 12 earned runs) over his last three starts. The Reds, 1-4 when the 22-year-old pitches, didn't take advantage of his good outings and couldn't help him when he wasn't on. "His velocity was down a little bit," Baker said. "He picked it up a few times to 94. His slider wasn't as good. He hung an 0-2 slider for the base hit to the pitcher. His stuff wasn't quite as sharp, but he pitched good enough to keep us in the ballgame to come back and win." With the Reds losers in 10 of their last 13 games and a 10-day road trip about to commence, Baker's eternal optimism is being tested only 23 games into the season. Cincinnati is 9-14 and resides in last place in the National League Central. How do they climb out? "You have to tap into your past," Baker said. "You have to say, 'Hey man, think about how you were thinking when you were going good.' You can't worry about, think about and wallow in your own mess when things are going poorly. You just can't feel sorry for yourself. This is when we have to get tough and say, 'Hey I'm a better ballplayer and I'm better than that.'"
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.