Silent bats end Reds' NL Central title hopes

The SportsXchange

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds were eliminated from the National League Central race on Wednesday. But with a postseason berth already assured, the Reds still hope to revive their now-struggling offense in time to gain home-field advantage for Tuesday's NL wild card game

On Wednesday afternoon, Mets right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka dominated them for 7 2/3 shutout innings, lifting New York to a 1-0 victory over Cincinnati in the finale of a three-game series at Great American Ball Park.

"We had opportunities. Little things cost you in a low-scoring game," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We've got to figure out how to get the big hit, especially with two outs. We'll play a lot of these types of games in the postseason."

Cincinnati (90-69) plays host to the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates for a three-game series beginning Friday. The season series between the Reds and Pirates is even at 8-8, and that's the first tiebreaker for home field in the wild card matchup.

"It's very important," Baker said of home-field advantage. "But you've got to play the game. This team seems to always take the hard road."

Lately, yes. The Reds have scored three runs in their past 26 innings. But for Wednesday's outcome, credit Matsuzaka (3-3), who has a 1.38 ERA in his past four outings.

Facing the Reds for the first time in his career, Matsuzaka allowed four hits and two walks and had a season-high six strikeouts.

"With him, it's always going to be about command," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He threw harder today than he has been, so maybe his velocity's coming back. He threw more strikes today than he has been. He's just such a great competitor."

New York (73-85) finished its season series against Cincinnati with a 4-10 record after taking two of the last three.

LaTroy Hawkins, who was nursing a sore triceps muscle, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 13th save.

Reds right-hander Mat Latos (14-7) officially was named Wednesday's starter the night before the game. Latos pitched seven solid innings, allowing one run and four hits. He walked two and struck out seven.

"I felt strong. Velocity was up. I'll take the positives into the next start," said Latos, who could pitch the NL wild card game on Tuesday. "When I do get the ball again, I'll be ready to go, ready to compete."

The Mets scored their run in the third inning when Wilfredo Tovar was hit by a pitch and later came home from third on Eric Young's seeing-eye single through the right side of the infield.

Meanwhile, Matsuzaka stymied the Reds, allowing three hits through five innings.

Cincinnati's best scoring opportunity was in the third when Cesar Izturis led off with a double but was left stranded.

"That's a very good lineup in a small ballpark," Matsuzaka said via an interpreter. "I just focused on limiting the amount of hits they had. It felt great to pitch well against a team like this."

In the fifth, Mets catcher Juan Centeno became the first to throw out Reds rookie speedster Billy Hamilton, who was 13-for-13 on stolen base attempts.

"As soon as he got on base, I got ready," Centeno said. "I know he likes to go early."

Latos found his rhythm in the middle innings, retiring seven straight, including five via strikeouts and all three batters in the sixth.

Cincinnati had its chances.

With two outs in the eighth, a wild pitch by Pedro Feliciano advanced runners to second and third for Joey Votto, who flied out to center.

The Reds were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left six runners on base.

"You go into our clubhouse, the guys are down, but they're not out," Baker said. "No matter how urgent you feel, you can't guide the ball. Urgency doesn't help you. Too much urgency can hurt you."

NOTES: Latos started in order to align the Reds' rotation so that he would be available to start Tuesday's National League wild card game, if needed. ... Cincinnati set an attendance record of 2,371,103 this season at Great American Ball Park. The previous mark of 2,355,259 was established in 2003, the ballpark's inaugural season. ... Mets 3B David Wright was given the day off. "I expect him to play three of the next four games, I'm not sure about all four," manager Terry Collins said. Wright is hitting .429 with two homers since coming off the disabled list. ... Reds LHP Tony Cingrani threw a bullpen session and could be available to pitch in relief this weekend. Cingrani left his start on Sept. 10 with back spasms. ... Reds OF Jay Bruce had two stolen bases for the first time in his career. ... The 1-0 final score was just the 11th in Great American Ball Park history.
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