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Richard Justice

Reds' wild win may spark struggling club

Reds' wild win may spark struggling club

Reds' wild win may spark struggling club

ARLINGTON -- Forget the nine runners left on base and the three errors. Pay no attention to the two leads that slipped away. Who keep tracks of style points anyway? The Cincinnati Reds got something they desperately needed on Saturday night, and let's not sweat the small stuff.

"Every streak starts with one," manager Dusty Baker said.

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Outside his office, the clubhouse celebration was subdued. Maybe it was starting a four-hour game in 97-degree heat. Or maybe it simply was a feeling of relief to finally catch a couple of breaks.

Anyway, the Reds beat the Texas Rangers 6-4 in 11 innings Saturday night. Right-hander Mike Leake and four relievers were terrific, and catcher Devin Mesoraco delivered a two-run home run in the top of the 11th.

Finally.

The Reds have been punched in the gut by an assortment of slumps and a string of injuries that have included the top of the rotation (Johnny Cueto) and the back of the bullpen (Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton).

They began the day having lost six of seven games, and as the Cardinals and Pirates continued to win, the Reds have fallen 4 1/2 games out of first.

So all that mattered is that they left the ballpark feeling good about themselves, hoping for a chance to regain their mojo.

"You've got to get one [win] before you get 10," Baker said. "The way you win gets you going sometimes."

He paused and smiled.

"At least you've got to think it's going to get you going," he said.

His day had started with the disheartening news that his ace, Cueto, was headed back to the disabled list for the third time this season.

Tough times impact a club in various ways. For a club hoping to make the postseason for the third time in four seasons, core players sometimes assume the responsibility of changing the outcome.

And occasionally they try to do too much.

"Sometimes when you're struggling, you try harder," Mesoraco said. "But in reality you need to try less. It's a matter of going up there relaxing. You can see when guys are up there pressing."

That's what could have been happening in the bottom of the third inning when the Reds committed three errors and allowed the Rangers to turn one hit into three runs.

"It was just one of those nights," Baker said.

Baker admits the losing has led to some restless nights. For instance, it was around 4:40 a.m. Saturday when he came up with the idea to tweak his lineup by giving third baseman Todd Frazier a day off and using Jack Hannahan.

"It's been a grind," he said. "It hasn't been easy."

What's really strange is that while the Reds sailed through last season relatively healthy and have been tested again and again this season, their record actually is better than it was at this point last season -- 44-37 in 2012 versus 46-35 in 2013.

Their ERA is a bit better this season, their offense a bit worse. But the Cardinals and Pirates have been almost unbeatable, and when the Reds lost six of seven, it cost them ground.

"You know how baseball is," second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "Teams can be real hot, and then they can be real cold. I just know we're not playing the way we were playing early in the year. But we have a lot of injuries."

He said he's aware of how the Cardinals and Pirates are playing, but added: "All I can do is worry about the Reds and do what I can to get the team back on track."

"This division is very, very tough, and I don't think either of those teams is going away," right fielder Jay Bruce said. "The biggest thing for me is it's more of a quiet expectation. It's not rah-rah or anything like that. We expect a high level of preparation out of everyone, out of each other, out of ourselves."

The Reds punched back on Saturday night and took some punches, too. They had some close calls. Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski and first baseman Mitch Moreland smoked balls to the deepest part of the field in the late innings. Both times, Baker's immediate reaction was they were home runs.

On this night, though, the ball stayed in the park. Shin-Soo Choo snapped out of a tough streak to reach base five times. Joey Votto was on base three times. The bullpen did its job, and Mesoraco delivered in the 11th.

"I think we've done a good job, especially with the injuries and stuff," Bruce said. "But I think there's a lot more there as a team. I don't think we've started clicking on all cylinders yet."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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