CINCINNATI -- The Pirates, as it turned out, were just invited guests at the Reds' Marty Party on Friday night. After the game, Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman got a public hair-razing.The game itself was hair-raising. The two NL Central front-runners went at it as befit the Major Leagues' two hottest teams meeting at peak-flame. In particular, Reds shortstop Zack Cozart and fill-in second baseman Miguel Cairo gave a middle-infield defensive clinic at the most critical times, either getting or keeping the few Pittsburgh baserunners off base. A taut duel was broken open in the bottom of the fifth by one of the men responsible for it in the first place -- Cincinnati right-hander Mat Latos -- and from there the Reds earned a 3-0 victory over the Bucs and Wandy Rodriguez. It ended with Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman nailing down his 24th save in typical hitless fashion. But it was anything but routine. With two outs and the bases empty, Chapman's first pitch to Andrew McCutchen hit the Major League's top hitter flush on the left shoulder. The pitch visibly upset the Pirates in the visitors' dugout. After Chapman ended the game with a strikeout of Garrett Jones, the Bucs remained in their dugout for an unusually long time, staring down the Reds' on-field celebration. It was a somewhat bizarre ending to a game "between the top two division teams in a good atmosphere. It was definitely a good game to be a part of," McCutchen said. Asked whether getting hit by a Chapman 101-mph fastball spoiled the evening, McCutchen said: "It didn't spoil it. It just pumped us up. And that's the feeling we're going to take on the field [Saturday]." "You don't like to see anyone get hit," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Guy throws pretty hard. That's about it." Beyond the significant, late-developing subplot, the Reds thus opened up a 4 1/2-game National League Central lead over the Pirates with their 21st win in 24 games. The Pirates' record on their longest road trip of the season slipped to 5-3, with the final two games here remaining. Latos was brilliant in throwing 7 1/3 innings of four-hit ball at a Pittsburgh team that had scored 37 runs in the first seven games of this trip and cranked a total of 75 homers in 55 road games.
"We've seen him pretty good twice," Hurdle said of Latos, who brought an ERA of 4.17 into this start and now has thrown 14 shutout innings against the Bucs, allowing a total of six hits in the two starts. "So I don't know where that four-plus ERA comes from."Putting a muffler on the Pirates was not the only oddity of the night. Two of the teams' nine hits through seven innings were by the two starting pitchers, who had entered with a collective career batting average of .117. Rodriguez's safety was more interesting -- his sixth-inning grounder off first baseman Todd Frazier's glove was his first hit of the season in 40 at-bats. But Latos' knock was a little bigger -- and longer. Minutes after dodging the Pirates' biggest threat against him in the top of the fifth, Latos completed a personally enjoyable inning by stunning Rodriguez with a two-run homer to give himself a 3-0 lead. Latos had done this before, the home run being career No. 3. But that couldn't make Rodriguez feel any better. "Oh, yeah. Big mistake," Rodriguez said. "Two-seamer away, he got aggressive and put a big swing on it and hit it well. Yeah, I was very surprised." Otherwise, Rodriguez was far sharper in his second Pittsburgh start than he had been in the first, which had come against his former Astros teammates and in front of the Houston fans. In that outing, he had walked five in six innings. Friday night, he went seven and did not issue a walk, with four strikeouts. Pittsburgh's new right fielder, Travis Snider, checked in defensively in the second. Scott Rolen led off with an opposite-field screamer, which Snider tracked to the warning track, leaped and back-handed a few feet shy of the wall. This was two batters before the Reds drew first blood on an eerily similar play. Chris Heisey pulled a drive to left, and when the ball eluded Starling Marte's jump and instead caromed off the wall back toward the infield, Heisey turned it on for an inside-the-park home run, barreling through Rod Barajas' block just enough. The Pirates appeared to have an opening in the fifth. They were getting on base, and at the same time were getting on Latos' nerves. Neil Walker, subsequently forced on a grounder by Pedro Alvarez, and Barajas both walked after long, fouls-extended at-bats. Cincinnati pitching coach Bryan Price had to calm down Latos, who by then had thrown 20 pitches in the inning and had only one out. The threat petered out suddenly as Clint Barmes hit the first pitch to him hard, but right at Cozart for a double play. That would be only the first of three engineered by the Reds, taking a huge bite out of the total of seven runners the Pirates got on base. "They happened to keep getting plays when they needed them," said McCutchen. "We had opportunities, but it just seemed like a lot of things went their way." Until a Chapman pitch got away. Old baseball saying: Let sleeping dogs lie. Is "Who Let The Dogs Out?" next on the playlist?
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.