Reds forge tie for first as Leake rebounds
After struggles, rookie posts quality start before Cordero drama
CINCINNATI -- Starter Mike Leake realized he had become as predictable at throwing strikes as Larry King is wearing suspenders on TV. Closer Francisco Cordero realized he has become as unpredictable in the ninth inning as Snooki on MTV's "Jersey Shore."Both Reds pitchers are trying hard to change their ways. Leake came into Saturday with a new game plan and pitched effectively for six innings as the Reds took a 5-4 win over the Marlins. The club had to hang on in the ninth as Cordero had another rocky inning but still notched his 31st save. With St. Louis' 3-2 loss to the Cubs, the Reds (66-51, .564) effectively returned to a first-place tie with the Cardinals (65-50, .565), but are actually one thousandth of a percentage point behind in the National League Central. "It was good, especially coming off of two not-so-good games," said Leake, who allowed three runs and six hits with three walks and six strikeouts. "It was nice to put a quality start out there and keep us in the game, and contribute hitting as well." The rookie Leake (8-4), who was 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA over his past three starts, might have been in danger of losing his rotation spot with another bad outing as the Reds await the returns of Aaron Harang, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto. Leake had been prone to bad innings lately as hitters got aggressive and sat on pitches that always seemed around the plate. This time, Leake's pitch count was up early, and he issued a one-out walk to Gaby Sanchez to put runners on first and second in the first inning, and he issued back-to-back two-out walks to Sanchez and Dan Uggla in the third inning. Leake escaped both times. "Mostly, I was trying to just kind of be effectively wild today instead of pounding the zone so much," Leake said. "I hate walking people, but I felt like I needed to have a game where I kind of kept them on their toes not knowing when a strike was going to come." It was a scoreless game until the Reds broke through with three runs in the fourth inning against lefty Sean West (0-2). After Scott Rolen and Jonny Gomes opened the inning with back-to-back walks, Ramon Hernandez's RBI single to left field scored Rolen. Next came some great execution by Paul Janish, who put down a superb suicide squeeze bunt down the third-base line as Gomes sprinted home. "The pitch wasn't ideal, but we managed to keep it fair," Janish said. "It was a heater right at my knee. It was not an easy pitch to keep fair. Fortunately, it stayed fair." Leake followed Janish with a lined RBI single to left field to make it 3-0. Florida got two runs back with two outs in the fifth when Uggla hit a 3-1 Leake pitch for a two-run homer to left field. Chris Heisey scored on Rolen's RBI single to left field in the bottom of the frame. Wes Helms' home run to left field in the sixth kept the Marlins within one run. The Reds' bullpen worked in and out of trouble in a tense top of the seventh inning when Arthur Rhodes gave up a double and a walk before Nick Masset took over. Masset picked up a huge double play as Sanchez lined out. Uggla walked on four pitches, but Masset got Cody Ross to hit a tailing shallow liner that center fielder Drew Stubbs caught on the run. After Masset pitched a scoreless eighth, Stubbs provided an insurance run in the bottom of the inning with a 425-foot upper-deck solo homer to left field. Then the Reds had to hang on tight. Cordero -- who walked three, hit a batter and allowed two runs to get pulled from his previous save situation at Chicago last weekend -- walked leadoff batter Emilio Bonafacio to begin the ninth. He lost Hanley Ramirez to a single up the middle on an 0-2 pitch and walked Logan Morrison on four pitches to load the bases as 37,445 fans booed lustily. But Cordero wormed out of the jam when he induced a Sanchez run-scoring double-play grounder to Rolen at third base, and Uggla fouled out to first base to end the game with a big "whew." "I created that myself, walking people," Cordero said. "I've got nobody to blame but myself. Putting me in that situation, putting the team in that situation and putting the fans in that situation, it's why they're upset with me right now. ... In the end, we got to go home happy. I know they got to go home happy." In 52 1/3 innings, Cordero has 34 walks. Too many for anybody's taste. "I have to stop walking people," Cordero said. "I've got to do that or it's going to be like that every time. I see how upset the fans are with me. I understand that. Every time I walk someone, that guy comes in to score."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.