PITTSBURGH (AP) — Cincinnati Reds reliever Mychal Givens has been around long enough to understand the rhythms of a season.
Funks happen. What defines a team is how it responds to them. With the Reds staggering at the end of a frustrating nine-game road trip, Givens delivered a fastball that gave Cincinnati a much-needed jolt, exorcising some bad vibes in the process.
Givens struck out Pittsburgh’s Hoy Park with a 98 mph heater to seal a 1-0 win over the Pirates on Thursday to send the Reds home for a pivotal series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with something akin to momentum.
Less than 24 hours after a stunning ninth-inning loss in which Givens surrendered the winning run when Wilmer Difo scored from second on a fielder’s choice, he bounced back by picking up his eighth save.
It wasn’t easy. The Pirates had the tying run on third and the winning run on second with two outs. Givens fell behind Park 3-0 before four straight fastballs — all 95 mph or better — ended the threat.
“Compete,” Givens said. “That’s all that matters.”
Something the Reds are trying to do in an effort to stay in the mix for the second NL wild-card spot. They entered the day 1 1/2 games behind St. Louis and were in danger of getting swept by the last-place Pirates.
Instead, Tyler Mahle battled through six innings, Asdrúbal Cabrera hit a go-ahead, pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the seventh and the bullpen did the rest.
“It’s really important,” Givens said. “We needed this win today especially to continue to contend for a playoff spot.”
Mahle (12-5) allowed five hits — all singles — and struck out four with a walk as the Reds finished 3-6 during a nine-game swing through Chicago, St. Louis and Pittsburgh.
Cabrera, 0 for 18 since Cincinnati claimed him off waivers last month, provided the game’s only run while pinch-hitting for Mahle in the top of the seventh.
Tyler Stephenson led off with a double against Cody Ponce (0-4) and pinch-runner Delino DeShields moved to third on Shogo Akiyama’s sacrifice bunt two batters later. Cabrera followed with a long drive toward the gap in left-center that let DeShields trot home.
“That’s why I’m here,” the 35-year-old Cabrera said. “I’m here to help the team to win.”
Either Los Angeles or San Francisco — whoever doesn’t win the NL West — will claim the first wild-card berth. Cincinnati is hoping to emerge from a four-team scramble with St. Louis, San Diego and Philadelphia for the other.
A pair of tight losses — including the stunning walk-off on Difo’s mad dash from second — had the Reds teetering. Givens, acquired in a July trade in an effort to stabilize the bullpen, was eager for another crack at the Pirates.
“That kind of stuff happens,” Givens said. “For me (the loss) was a fluke for me. At the same time, you just wake up the next day and compete.”
Ben Gamel had two of Pittsburgh’s six hits, but he was also thrown out at the plate in the second inning while trying to score from third on a fielder’s choice by Michael Perez. Cincinnati second baseman Jonathan India’s throw home was perfect and Stephenson had the ball by the time Gamel attempted to unsuccessfully slide under the tag.
Pittsburgh fell to 0-14 this season when trying to sweep an opponent. There were bright spots, however, for a club that went 6-3 during a nine-game homestand against Detroit, Washington and Cincinnati.
“We haven’t had a sweep all season but, as of late, we’re playing really good baseball,” Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes said. “Pitching’s there. Hitting’s there. So, that’s all we can ask for.”
Rookie right-hander Connor Overton, claimed off waivers from Toronto earlier this month, worked three scoreless innings in his first career start.
“I had that quick moment of being overwhelmed, and then I kind of came to and just wanted to do the same thing I’ve been doing all year, just making pitches and getting people out,” Overton said.
The 28-year-old, pitching for his fifth major league organization since being taken by Miami in the 2014 draft, has worked 10 2/3 innings in the majors without surrendering a run. The right-hander, who underwent Tommy John surgery and spent time in independent ball in an effort to keep his career alive, is making a case to be in the mix for a spot somewhere on the pitching staff in 2022.
“I can’t really control that,” he said. “All I can control is focus on what I can control, and that’s coming out here and trying to be the same guy every day and making quality pitches and keeping hitters off balance. That’s really it.”
Reds: OF Tyler Naquin (ribs) missed his fifth straight game while recovering from a collision with Jose Barrero last Saturday. Cincinnati manager David Bell said Naquin “is not progressing well.” … OF Jesse Winker (ribs) was scheduled to make another rehab start for Triple-A Louisville on Thursday and could return to the Reds lineup as early as Friday.
Reds: Open a pivotal three-game homestand against the Dodgers on Friday. Luis Castillo (7-15, 4.24 ERA) starts against Walker Buehler (14-3, 2.32).
Pirates: Start a 10-game road trip on Friday in Miami. Wil Crowe (3-7, 5.97) faces Elieser Hernandez (1-1, 4.14) in the opener.
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