Following Reds starter Mike Leake's seven innings of work, the Cincinnati bullpen continued its scoreless-inning streak to bring home a 5-3 win against Pittsburgh at Great American Ball Park and secure the first two games of the three-game series.
The win reduced the Reds' magic number to clinch the National League Central to 11 and then to 10 after the Cardinals lost in San Diego later Tuesday.
After tossing eight clean innings Monday and two more Tuesday night, the Reds' bullpen has now gone 13 2/3 innings without giving up a run.
"You've got to have a good bullpen today, especially when pitchers are going six and seven innings and very few complete games, you've got to have a good bullpen," Baker said. "In 30 seconds, you can ruin two hours' worth of work if you don't. It's very deflating to a team to blow games late in the game. It's very inflating for the opposing team."
With 11 arms total in the bullpen and seven running on short fumes from Monday's marathon, the Reds needed a strong outing from Leake. What he gave them was good enough.
Leake surrendered a solo home run to Alex Presley in the second at-bat of the game to put the Reds down, 1-0, early. He gave up a double to right later in the inning before eventually settling in and giving up just four hits throughout the next five innings.
Leake didn't face too many jams for much of the night until he gave up a two-run shot to pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez in the seventh to make it 4-3. It was the 10th multi-home run game for Leake this season, but Scott Rolen added a big insurance homer in the eighth and the bullpen -- Logan Ondrusek, Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton -- held on to give Leake his eighth win.
"I felt good," said Leake, who had the Pirates down to their final strike in the seventh before surrendering the homer. "I missed a few spots, but I was able to make the pitch when I needed to. The first home run was a bad pitch. The Sanchez home run wasn't a bad pitch. He was able to get to it."
Aside from the two long balls given up by the 24-year-old righty, Leake cruised through a fairly smooth evening with the help of a stout defense behind him.
Cincinnati turned three double plays in the contest, including one to end the game, which earned Broxton his first save with the Reds.
"It's a great group of guys that are down there," Broxton said of the bullpen. "You saw that last night. We played 14 [innings]. Everybody down there is just trying to go out there and keep the ball down, work the ball in and out, and just try to get out of there as quick as they can."
Much of that solid defense ran through three-time Glove Glover Brandon Phillips.
Phillips took part in one of the double plays as well as a nifty putout in the fifth that helped squash a potential threat to Leake's line.
Brock Holt shot a single to right field and Jay Bruce came up firing in case the runner on third tried to head home. Joey Votto cut the throw off and made a splendid quick toss to an alert Phillips covering first base. Phillips applied the tag to Holt, who rounded first and tried to slide back to the bag between Phillips' legs.
"It was just a heads-up play," Phillips said. "I just snuck in there and tried to make things happen like I always do and try to be the sneaky player that I am. I snuck in there and got a key out, and it really helped us that inning. That right there, I feel like that was the game."
Phillips was just as sneaky at the plate. He was responsible for four of the Reds' five runs, including a leadoff home run on the first pitch he saw from Pirates starter Kevin Correia.
He struck again in the second with an RBI double off shortstop Clint Barmes' glove and scored one batter later when Correia threw a wild pitch past Pirates catcher Michael McKenry. Leake scampered safely home from third, before McKenry made an errant throw to the plate past Correia trying to get Leake, allowing Phillips to sprint home and give the Reds a 4-1 lead. McKenry was charged with an error on the throw.
"A couple of random things happened and I gave up three runs, and that was pretty much the gist of the outing right there," Correia said. "[The pitch] didn't kick away that far, just had Leake, probably one of the fastest pitchers in the league -- nobody else would've even tried to go on that, any other pitcher -- he's got the speed to do it and created a play for them."
Random or not, the Reds walked away victorious and with a series win already secured after dropping two of three to the last-place Astros this past weekend.
"We played a very good game tonight in all phases," Baker said. "We ran the bases well, hit well, got some timely hitting and turned some key, key double plays. Our guys are performing well."