CINCINNATI -- With three home runs, strong bullpen work and nice defense, the Reds put together the recipe for a 3-2 victory over the Pirates on Monday at Great American Ball Park in the opener of their three-game series. It was Tucker Barnhart's seventh-inning solo home run that provided the difference.
Pittsburgh had taken a 2-1 lead with two runs in the top of the sixth inning against Reds starter Dan Straily. But there could have been more damage, as Straily began the inning with the bases loaded and no outs before getting a sacrifice fly from Francisco Cervelli and an RBI groundout by Jung Ho Kang.
In the bottom of the sixth, Joey Votto hit a one-out solo homer to left field that tied the game. With two outs in the seventh, Barnhart provided the go-ahead run when he hit a Jonathon Niese first pitch to left field for his first homer of the season. It required a crew chief review to confirm there was no fan interference as the ball landed in the first row of seats.
For Niese, who also allowed Zack Cozart's first-inning home run, it was the fourth time in seven starts he gave up multiple homers.
"There's too many positives in this outing to dwell on the negatives," Niese said. "The biggest negative was we lost. But there were a lot of positives. I'm going to take those and run with them and build off them for my next start."
JC Ramirez pitched a perfect seventh inning in the victory. During a key scoreless eighth, Blake Wood walked the leadoff batter and went to a 3-0 count on Gregory Polanco before inducing a flyout. Wood then got a great diving stop by Cozart on Starling Marte's hard grounder, the throw just in time.
"Our bullpen was great tonight, our starting pitching -- a total team win," Barnhart said. "Everybody chipped in. Hopefully this starts a string of good pitching for the bullpen."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Votto ties game in sixth: After Pittsburgh scored two in the top of the sixth inning to take a 2-1 lead, Votto picked up the Reds in the bottom half. He lifted a 2-2 pitch from Niese and didn't get all of it as it carried to the opposite field. But the ball just cleared the left-field wall and was inside the foul pole for the game-tying homer. According to Statcast™, Votto's fifth homer of the season left the bat at 98 miles per hour but had a high launch angle of 40 degrees.
Productive outs: After five quiet innings against Straily, the Pirates finally had a chance to break through in the sixth. Andrew McCutchen singled, Polanco walked and Marte lined a single to left to load the bases with no outs. But Straily retired the next three hitters in order, so the Pirates could only manage a pair of runs on two outs. Cervelli tied the game with a sacrifice fly to deep center -- the first of two balls that fell short in center field, along with the final out of the game by David Freese -- and Kang bounced into a go-ahead, run-scoring groundout.
"We drove two balls to center field. It seemed like the ball was moving better to left field tonight. Sometimes your direction's not where it needs to be," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You know if it doesn't leave the park, there's a good chance their center fielder's going to run underneath it."
A long wait: Barnhart's home run was his first since May 27, 2015, ending a drought of 270 at-bats without a homer. It was the seventh-longest active streak in the Majors. The batted ball speed was only 96 mph and traveled 355 feet. It was also the switch-hitting Barnhart's first homer in professional baseball as a right-handed hitter.
"I hit one in Spring Training, and that was the first right-handed homer as a professional baseball player. Obviously tonight was my first one in the big leagues," Barnhart said. "Pretty special. I've been working really hard to be in a good position to hit, and it's working out so far." More >
Caught stealing:Billy Hamilton has run all over the Pirates, stealing 33 bases -- his most against any opponent -- while being caught six times. The speedy center fielder has also produced well offensively against Pittsburgh, adding another three hits on Monday. But the Bucs shut down his only attempted steal, as Cervelli connected with Mercer to nail Hamilton at second base in the eighth inning. The Reds challenged the call, but it was confirmed after a replay review.
"If you're going to hit a guy third and not let him swing 3-0, I'm not sure you should let him hit third." -- Hurdle, on approving Gregory Polanco's 3-0 swing -- a flyout to left field -- in the eighth inning
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Before Cozart took Niese deep to left field, the last leadoff homer allowed by the Pirates was hit by Jason Heyward (then with the Braves) off Vance Worley on Aug. 18, 2014.
Marte, batting .341, has had multiple hits in four straight games overall and in five of seven games against the Reds this season.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Right-hander Juan Nicasio will start for the Pirates when they return to Great American Ball Park at 7:10 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Nicasio struggled his last time out against the Cubs but pitched well against the Reds on April 29, throwing seven scoreless innings at PNC Park.
Reds: When the series continues, Alfredo Simon will be pitching for Cincinnati. Simon is coming off of his best start of 2016 on Thursday vs. the Brewers, with three runs over 7 2/3 innings.