CINCINNATI -- A two-run lead in Reds closer Francisco Cordero's capable hands usually means handshakes and high-fives are imminent. Instead of going the smooth express route, Cordero took his team and 20,289 fans at Great American Ball Park on a fingers-on-the-dashboard type of ride. Yet all that mattered in the end was that he secured Cincinnati's 5-3 win over the Cubs that snapped a miserable five-game losing streak. "We needed that one badly," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
After Johnny Cueto pitched six innings for the victory and snapped a five-game winless streak of his own, Mike Lincoln and David Weathers bridged the gap with scoreless one-inning efforts in the seventh and eighth. Then it was Cordero's turn to emerge from the bullpen for his first save situation in one week. "It was rough, but at the same time, it was good. In the end, we got the 'W,'" Cordero said. Leadoff batter Mike Fontenot and Felix Pie started the Chicago rally with a pair of lined singles to left field. Both were rockets that were well-hit. Pinch-hitter Daryle Ward hit a long fly to center field for the first out. Struggling with his command, Cordero threw three two-strike sliders in the dirt to Alfonso Soriano, the final one for ball four that loaded the bases. A large pro-Cubs contingent shouted with excitement while the remaining Reds faithful hung on to their seats. Facing Ryan Theriot, Cordero threw another slider in the dirt that was blocked by Paul Bako. As the ball rolled right of Bako towards the Reds dugout, Fontenot broke for home. Bako retrieved the ball quickly and threw a dart to Cordero, who alertly covered the play. Fontenot was tagged out by Cordero as he slid into home. "The play of the day was when Cordero covered home plate and Bako threw a strike," Baker said. "Boy, that's how you script it. That's how you practice it at Spring Training." Theriot walked and loaded the bases for the second time in the inning as Derrek Lee came to the plate. "You've got the bottom of the order up and you say, 'You have to get five guys before Derrek Lee comes up,'" Baker said. "That's exactly what happened. I was saying to myself, 'Derrek Lee did it for me. I've seen him do it for a long time.' I said, 'Just keep him in the hole.' Then he was on deck. Then I said, 'Keep him on deck.' Next thing you know, big [6-foot-6] Derrek Lee was at the plate in a situation where you just hate to see him." On a 1-2 pitch, Lee grounded to first baseman Joey Votto, who was playing way back on the dirt. It was a race to first base, but Votto won as he slid into first base for the final out. Exhale, Reds dugout. "You're trying to be cool. Inside you're churning," Baker said. "That would have been a devastating loss." With five saves in only five opportunities this season, Cordero doesn't plan on making the rest of them that exciting. "If I get the chance [Tuesday], it will be different. I promise you that," Cordero said. "I'll make better pitches. I know my slider is going to work [Tuesday]. It looked like a split-fingered [fastball] today." "It doesn't matter. Smile," said left fielder Adam Dunn, peering around Cordero's locker. Dunn's 463-foot two-run home run to right field in the third inning proved to be the difference maker. Cueto (2-3), who came in 0-3 with a 7.48 ERA over his last four starts, was much better than his 1 2/3-inning outing in his previous start. After some one-on-one sessions last week with instructor and mentor Mario Soto, who came up from the Dominican Republic, Cueto allowed three earned runs and six hits with two walks and eight strikeouts. "You could tell tonight he was focused," Baker said. [But] he threw a lot of pitches in a short period of time." Cueto threw 108 pitches in six innings and received a hug from Baker when he came to the dugout after the sixth. It wasn't an even performance. Cueto threw a lot of pitches and made some mistakes. With one out in the second, Geovany Soto was given a 1-1 fastball over the plate and crushed it into the left-field seats for a 430-foot solo homer. There were two outs in the fifth when Cueto gave up Theriot's RBI double and Lee's RBI single to make it a two-run game. Fortunately, the Reds had built a 5-1 pad for Cueto, even if all of the runs against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (4-1) were unearned. After one-out infield singles by Ken Griffey Jr. and Brandon Phillips, Fontenot booted Votto's would-be double-play grounder to second base for an error that loaded the bases. Dempster walked Edwin Encarnacion and forced in a run. Jeff Keppinger's two-out, two-run broken-bat single into shallow right-center field made it a 3-0 game. Dunn's long ball made it a four-run Reds lead. "It feels so good to get that monkey off your back to win that game," Baker said.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.