Votto polishes Cueto's gem after stellar duel

Votto polishes Cueto's gem after stellar duel

Votto polishes Cueto's gem after stellar duel
MILWAUKEE -- Johnny Cueto and Zack Greinke provided a pitchers' battle of the highest quality on Wednesday afternoon -- the kind that would make it worth playing hooky from work to take in.

"It's rare that a pitchers' duel like that lives up to its billing, but it certainly did today," said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun.

Yet the Reds' narrow 2-1 victory came following a harrowing nail-biter of a ninth inning in which both closers didn't get the job done.

It was Joey Votto's two-out RBI double off John Axford that provided the go-ahead run for Cincinnati.

"Zack is always a handful. John Axford is a very good pitcher in his own right, and we stole one from him," Votto said. "It's great whenever you can sneak out a win against those two pitchers."

The win made the series and the road trip look supremely better. The Reds won two of three in Milwaukee and go home with a 4-2 record for the road trip. They are now 16-14 overall.

"That was huge," said manager Dusty Baker, who recorded career victory No. 1,500. "We have a winning road trip and are two over .500 on our overall record. That was a big win."

When the bullpens took over, it was a 0-0 game in the bottom of the eighth. Greinke and Axford combined for five straight strikeouts over the eighth and ninth innings, as the Reds had only two hits for the whole game.

Drew Stubbs knocked a 1-2 pitch into center field for a single to give Cincinnati an opening.

Votto lined his double through the gap in right-center. Corey Hart had to make a long run to retrieve the ball, allowing Stubbs to motor from first base and score easily. Brandon Phillips followed with a flared single into center field that scored Votto, which proved to be a pivotal insurance run.

Axford needed 32 pitches to get through the inning.

"That's a tough customer," Baker said. "He's one of the best in the league. We don't get him very often."

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in the bottom of the eighth for the victory and left it all set up for Sean Marshall to secure the save in the ninth. But Marshall couldn't close it out.

Braun tightened it up when he led off with a homer to left field. There were two outs when Jonathan Lucroy worked Marshall in an 11-pitch at-bat, including six straight fouls, and lined a single to left field. Pinch-hitter Norichika Aoki blooped a full-count pitch for a single into short left field.

Marshall was lifted with 35 pitches, and Logan Ondrusek was summoned.

"We knew we were going to face George Kottaras, but we wanted a fresh arm in there," Baker said. "Lucroy took a lot out of [Marshall] because he fouled off seven or eight pitches and finally got one up that he hit into the outfield. Then Aoki blooped one in there, and I figured that was enough. I hate to take the closer out, but we needed that ballgame."

Pinch-hitter Kottaras walked on five pitches to load the bases, but on the first pitch he saw, Travis Ishikawa flied to left field to end the game, giving Ondrusek his first big league save.

"That's not the way you want to get a save, obviously," Ondrusek said. "You want Marshall to be out there and close the door. I'm glad I got out of there without allowing any more damage and going to extra innings."

As messy as the ninth became, the first eight innings were crisp and clean. Cueto gave the Reds seven innings with five hits, one walk and five strikeouts. Greinke dealt eight innings with two hits, no walks and 11 strikeouts. Both starters made 104 pitches.

This marked the first time in 19 games that the Brewers lost a home game that Greinke started. He didn't allow a hit until Stubbs' one-out double in the fourth and didn't have another baserunner until Phillips' two-out single in the seventh.

It did not faze Cueto, however.

"I felt good, because I was throwing my game," Cueto said. "I was trying to keep them away from scoring runs. That was my game."

The Brewers had some chances to get to Cueto but came up empty in the second and third innings. In the second, Cueto gave up a leadoff double to Aramis Ramirez and a one-out single to Lucroy. Taylor Green grounded into a routine 6-4-3 double play to kill the rally. Cueto escaped the third after having the bases loaded and two outs. He'd made 52 pitches at that point but he went on to retire the next 12, including a seven-pitch fourth inning.

Cueto has kept opponents scoreless for 16 consecutive innings over two starts and has allowed only one run over his last 23 innings to lower his ERA to 1.13 in seven starts.

"I knew it was going to be tough. [Cueto] is probably the most underappreciated pitcher since he's been healthy last year," Greinke said. "His numbers are pretty insane, and I don't think I've really heard anyone talk about him being one of the better pitchers in the league. Maybe it's time to start that."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.