CINCINNATI -- Backed by Jung Ho Kang's sixth-inning grand slam, the Pirates' first slam of the year, left-hander J.A. Happ struck out 10 over six-plus innings and the Bucs held on late to secure a 5-4 win over the Reds on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park.
With the win and the Cardinals' 4-3 victory over the Cubs on Wednesday, the Pirates remained 4 1/2 games behind St. Louis in the National League Central standings and pulled three games ahead of Chicago in the NL Wild Card race.
"It's just been good. I'm happy to be a part of this team," said Happ, acquired from the Mariners before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. "We're playing good baseball. Being a part of this group, it's been fun. I'm looking forward to some more, for sure."
The Reds made it interesting in the eighth inning -- in more ways than one. A two-run rally cut the Pirates' earlier 5-1 lead to just one run, and Joey Votto and manager Bryan Price were ejected during the middle of Votto's at-bat. But setup man Tony Watson wiggled out of the jam, and Pirates closer Mark Melancon slammed the door with his Major League-leading 44th save.
"He made some good pitches," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Watson, who needed 37 pitches to get through the frame. "Some strange things went on, but he's a warrior out there. He battles. He's our guy. We thought he'd get it done."
Unable to complete four innings in three of his last four outings, Reds right-hander Keyvius Sampson was on his way to his best start since Aug. 8 before Kang's homer. Sampson cruised into the sixth inning, then gave up two singles and a walk. Kang chased Sampson from the game with his first Major League grand slam, a 394-foot rocket to left field.
VOTTO, PRICE EJECTED
Votto was ejected during a heated dispute with home-plate umpire Bill Welke. Facing Watson, while Cincinnati trailed by two runs with runners on first and second base, Votto took a 1-1 pitch for a called strike by Welke. He appeared to dispute the call and turned to the Reds' dugout from outside the batter's box to say he asked for timeout when Welke tossed him from the game. Votto spiked his helmet and had to be held back from going after Welke. Price was also ejected following an argument a few moments later. More >
Rookie Ramon Cabrera pinch-hit for Votto, and despite the 1-2 count, blooped a single into right field for his first Major League hit.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED The Kang Show: Kang's grand slam was the Pirates' first in more than a year. Their most recent one before Wednesday night came from Ike Davis, who went deep off Mike Leake on April 21, 2014. The blast -- which left his bat at 108 mph, according to Statcast™ -- continued Kang's recent power surge, as the rookie straight out of the Korean Baseball Organization leads the Bucs with 11 second-half homers.
"He was looking for one pitch in one spot," Hurdle said. "He got it, timed it well, put the barrel to it and rode it out of the ballpark. Very pretty swing." More >
Frazier Flavor: With one out in the bottom of the second inning of a 1-0 game, Todd Frazier tied it when he hit Happ's 1-0 offspeed pitch for a home run to right-center field. It was Frazier's 31st homer of the season. In the seventh against Joakim Soria, Frazier added a sacrifice fly to right field that scored Votto to tie his career high of 80 RBIs set last season.
It's Happ-ening: Happ continued his magnificent run since joining the Pirates, picking up his fifth straight win and tying the second-highest strikeout total of his nine-year career. The lefty has put together a 1.79 ERA in six starts with Pittsburgh, the lowest of any pitcher in the Pirates' rotation.
Happ showed off his strikeout stuff right away, fanning the side in the first inning. The lefty got Billy Hamilton swinging and froze Ivan De Jesus Jr. and Votto for called strikeouts, the first of five he'd record of that variety. As Pittsburgh improved to 6-1 in his seven starts, Happ attributed his success to the way he and catcher Francisco Cervelli worked the ball around the zone.
"Not going to be perfect," Happ said. "But we definitely tried to execute that today, and I think that caused some success, for sure."
Sampson started smooth: Prone to high pitch counts, and unable to get past four innings in any of his last four starts while being around 100 pitches, Sampson started out strong Wednesday despite working on three days' rest. After Gregory Polanco's leadoff double in the first inning, Sampson retired 13 of his next 14 batters and had 65 pitches through five innings.
"I was trying to keep my tempo up and attack the hitters. It's what I was trying to do all night," Sampson said.
"I think this team has shown resiliency. It's shown character. It's shown backbone. It's shown some grit. Everyone out there knows what we're playing for." -- Hurdle, on the Pirates winning two straight series in St. Louis and Cincinnati after being swept in Milwaukee
"He had thrown five really nice innings with a low pitch count. Kang, up to that point, was 0-for-4 in his career against him, and I let him face him. That didn't work out well. And that's on me. It's my decision, and I own that. I still felt like Keyvius was the guy for that at-bat." -- Price
PENA PULLS UP WITH LEG INJURY
Pinch-hitting against Watson in the eighth with a runner on first base, Brayan Pena hit a double to left field but limped between first base and second base while grabbing the back of his right leg. The Reds' regular catcher was lifted for pinch-runner Ryan LaMarre, and since Tucker Barnhart was lifted for a pinch-hitter just ahead of Pena in the eighth, third catcher Ramon Cabrera took over behind the plate. Pena was diagnosed with a strained right hamstring. More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The only NL rookie with more home runs than Kang since the All-Star break is the Cubs' Kyle Schwarber, who has hit 12. With 11 homers in that span, Kang is tied with Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: All-Star right-hander A.J. Burnett will rejoin the Pirates' rotation as the Bucs return home to PNC Park for Thursday night's 7:05 ET series opener against the Brewers. Burnett has been sidelined since July 30 by a flexor strain in his right elbow, but he's ready to get back on the mound as he nears the end of what he's said will be his final season. More >
Reds:John Lamb, still seeking his first Major League win, is slated to start the series opener against the Cardinals on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET at Great American Ball Park. It will mark the 41st consecutive start by a Reds rookie pitcher.