"He didn't have his location early and was missing like we hadn't seen him miss," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
A leadoff walk to Pirates pitcher Daniel McCutchen proved to be bad news for Lehr in the top of the second. After a double from Andrew McCutchen, both runners scored on a single by Andy LaRoche, who was thrown out at second trying for a double.
In the top of the fourth inning, Lastings Milledge put the Reds in a 3-0 hole with a home run to left field against Lehr, who has given up eight long balls over his past three starts.
After that, Lehr did not allow another baserunner. He retired his final nine in a row.
"I went into the stretch with nobody on and kind of cleaned up my delivery a little bit," he said. "I gave up eight home runs the last three games and seven of them have been in the wind-up. I walked the leadoff guy in the wind-up and the pitcher in the wind-up. I was like, 'Forget it, I'm done with this.' On a 3-1 count to Garrett Jones [in the third inning], I just went back to the stretch and had one baserunner after that for almost four innings."
After a 13-3 record in Triple-A, Lehr finished with a 5-3 record and 5.37 ERA in the big leagues this season after his July callup. He had a 6.75 ERA over his final three starts.
"I'm kind of wishing I went back to three games ago and just went into the stretch," Lehr said. "I was definitely more directional and the ball was down."
The Reds had only five hits against McCutchen, who earned his first big league win, with four of them being for extra bases. There could have been more. Pittsburgh played some nice defense, especially in the sixth inning when Milledge robbed Joey Votto of a potential extra-base hit with a nice running catch of a drive into the left-field corner.
"I didn't think he had a chance on it," Baker said. "The ball was slicing away from him and was in the corner. Those are things that don't show up in the stat sheet. You don't know what could happen after that."
Cincinnati could not score on McCutchen until the seventh when Wladimir Balentien launched a solo home run to the back rows of the upper-deck bleachers in left field. The estimated distance on the long ball was 467 feet.
But it wasn't enough for the Reds, who saw their eight-game winning streak against the Pirates end. It also guaranteed that Cincinnati will not have a winning record at home this season. They have a 38-41 record at Great American Ball Park with two games left to play.