SEATTLE -- The first West Coast test of the season has come before the Reds, and it began on Friday with a degree of maximum difficulty.The Mariners offered Cliff Lee to the best-hitting and highest-scoring team in the National League, and the lefty simply carved through it. A six-hit shutout sent the Reds to the narrowest of losses, by a 1-0 score.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
"They got the big one when they needed it," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.That one actually wasn't so big at all -- but it was just enough. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, and a 2-2 count, Reds starter Johnny Cueto hit Jose Lopez with a pitch. It opened the door just enough for the Mariners to creep through. Franklin Gutierrez followed with a blooped single in front of center fielder Chris Heisey. Josh Wilson followed with a rolling single up the middle into center field. As Lopez ran from second base to score, Heisey made a good throw to the plate, but Lopez nicely dodged as he slid to evade catcher Corky Miller's tag attempt by what seemed like millimeters. "It was very, very close," Baker said of the play. "The throw was just up the line some. He did miss him. I could tell from where I was at. "That was the whole ballgame." It was an otherwise good evening for Cueto, who pitched 5 2/3 innings with one run and four hits allowed. He walked two and struck out five. His pitch count ran up quickly, as he finished with 116. Cueto's nine-start unbeaten streak, dating back to April 24, is over. "It's part of the game," Cueto said of the close defeat. "I was trying to make some good pitches. [Lee is] an outstanding pitcher. I like the competition. Some day, I want to be like him -- one of the best pitchers in the big leagues." Cincinnati -- which has dropped four of its last five games -- has fallen back into second place, a half-game behind the Cardinals in the National League Central. Lee did not walk a batter and struck out seven, but the Reds did have some limited chances to put something together. With two outs in the first, Joey Votto hit a single and Scott Rolen followed with a double toward the left-field corner. It was fielded quickly, and Votto had to stop at third. Jonny Gomes grounded out to end the inning. Spacious Safeco Field also betrayed Reds hitters -- some of whom got some good wood on a few of Lee's pitches and drove balls that would been home runs at Great American Ball Park. Brandon Phillips hit a drive off the left-field wall for a two-out double in the third and was followed by a Votto drive that was caught at the warning track in center. "This ballpark is very forgiving, especially when you have Cliff Lee out there throwing strikes," Baker said. "We're playing where we're playing. I thought Brandon's had a chance. Another six inches and we're ahead, 1-0. Tonight was certainly a game of inches." Daniel Ray Herrera and Arthur Rhodes combined for 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to give the Reds a chance. But Lee was too good to overcome on a night that belied the 5.77 career ERA in seven starts he had vs. Cincinnati coming in. "I've never seen Cliff Lee other than at his best," Baker said. After he allowed Heisey's two-out single in the fourth inning, Lee retired 12 Reds batters in a row until Orlando Cabrera hit a two-out single in the eighth inning. The game lasted only two hours and 16 minutes -- the Reds' shortest of the season. "I don't know that you can pitch any better than he did tonight against a very good-hitting ballclub," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "He had command, didn't walk a batter, aggressiveness, feel for all his pitches, tempo, economy of his pitches ... just a tremendous outing and special to watch." For a Reds team trying to prove it's legit, they will have to prove they can overcome the burden of the West Coast, where they are 13-33 since 2006. It doesn't get any easier when the Reds face the other Mariners ace in right-hander Felix Hernandez on Saturday.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.