Two-out hits and extra-base hits were bountiful, and the Reds would need every last one to hold on to a 6-5 victory over the Cubs on Friday afternoon. It was the seventh straight win at Wrigley for the Reds, their longest streak in 10 years, and it improved their road trip record to 3-5 and the overall road record to 4-10.
But it did not come easy. Disaster was narrowly averted in the ninth inning when Aroldis Chapman entered in a non-save situation with a 6-2 lead. Chapman allowed three runs on three singles and two walks.
"It turned out the extra runs we scored ended up meaning something," said Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who was 2-for-3 with two runs scored. "It's very rare that something like that happens with Aroldis. Throughout his career, he's been pretty much lights-out. It just so happens that today was one of those days that the extra runs paid off. Thankfully they did."
Early on, the Reds seemed poised for a smooth day, as they increased their lead to 4-0 on Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva in the top of the sixth. Villanueva went 8 1/3 innings and mostly shut down the Reds when he faced them in Cincinnati on April 23.
Votto lined a two-out single to right in the first inning before Todd Frazier -- who came in 3-for-23 on the road trip -- lifted a double over David DeJesus' head to the center-field wall. Shin-Soo Choo, in his first funk as he came into the day 3-for-26 on the trip, hit a two-out single that scored Xavier Paul in the second.
"The team that gets the two-out hits is usually the team that wins the games," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Villanueva retired the next 10 in a row until Votto's leadoff single in the sixth. He scored from first on Jay Bruce's double near the right-field corner. Bruce scored on a two-out double to left by Devin Mesoraco that made it 4-0. Mesoraco had only one hit in his last 12 at-bats before the hit.
"Funks go in cycles. Guys are going to hit," Baker said. "It's impossible to hit all the time. You wish you could. I wish they could. But things go in cycles. I just hope this is an upturn towards how we can play and how we can hit."
Reds starter Mike Leake limited Chicago to five singles over five scoreless innings until a two-run sixth-inning rally. Sam LeCure used one pitch to end the jam in the sixth and lefty Sean Marshall got the Reds out of a bases-loaded threat in the seventh.
Cincinnati added a run in the top of the seventh on a Bruce groundout, and in the eighth, got one more when Zack Cozart -- in a 4-for-26 slide -- slashed a two-out single to left that scored Choo to make it 6-2.
What precious insurance it proved to be.
"That's what I tell the guys all the time," Baker said. "You get one more run and you don't know if that's going to be the winner or not."
Even with no save on the line, Baker elected to bring in Chapman after Jonathan Broxton worked a scoreless eighth. It was a move he defended postgame.
"He hadn't pitched in three days," Baker said. "If we don't pitch him, then it's, 'OK, you're pitching him too much or you're not pitching him enough.' Yeah, he needed work. It was only a four-run game. We have a strong bullpen and Broxton was in there with a four-run game, too. There are no excuses or alibis or no one to blame. [Chapman] just didn't get them out today. It happens."
Flocks of seagulls hovered over the field seeking postgame dinner. Their meal was delayed, as Cubs hitters feasted on Chapman instead.
To begin his inning, Chapman gave up three straight hard-lined singles to load the bases. Chapman got a strikeout and a fly out, but could not get the 27th out of the game. Pinch-hitter Scott Hairston's walk forced in a run.
The pressure mounted when Welington Castillo flared a single into center to score two runs and make it a one-run game. On his 32nd pitch of the inning, Chapman walked pinch-hitter Cody Ransom to re-load the bases.
"Those were some great at-bats today off the best closer in the game," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
Right-hander J.J. Hoover came to the rescue to strike out the inning's ninth batter, Darwin Barney, and avert what could have been a crushing defeat.
"It's too bad Chapman couldn't finish it off. But I'm glad to step in," Hoover said. "You kind of train yourself for that as a reliever. All of these guys can handle that kind of situation. That's what makes us a good staff."
Chapman entered the day with a 0.68 ERA in 14 appearances. He'll need some more shutdown work to shave down the 2.57 ERA he now has after the harrowing 15th game.
"Nobody can do it all the time," Baker said. "Today was Chappy's time not to have it. It was time for Hoover to bail us out."