PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Cincinnati Reds likely envisioned themselves in the thick of a pennant race as the calendar turned to September. Yet, they're five games under .500 after injuries wreaked havoc on one of baseball's more talented rosters.
Even Johnny Cueto, one of the game's best pitchers, hasn't been immune to the tough times endured by the Reds this season.
On Sunday, Cueto overcame an early jolt to earn his 16th win and Chris Heisey hit two home runs, including a tiebreaking shot in the ninth inning, as the Reds beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2.
Cueto (16-8) gave up a home run to Josh Harrison on his first pitch of the game. Jordy Mercer homered off Cueto in the second for a 2-0 lead.
"I was just ready to hit," Harrison said. "He's a strike-thrower. Sometimes when you face a guy you get familiar and you see some pitches out of his hand really well."
Cueto wound up pitching eight innings and tied Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw for the major league lead in victories. Cueto worked around nine hits, striking out six and walking one.
"I feel happy because I have 16 wins," Cueto said. "But at this point, with everything that happened to us, all I've got to do is just look ahead."
Said manager Bryan Price: "He's pitched in some tough luck this year."
"He's been outstanding and arguably the best in the National League for me, if not the best without question," Price said.
Price credits his ace's results with the mental strength Cueto has displayed during an arduous season.
"I've had guys that have lost the anticipation of being able to win," Price said. "That can't happen. It's unacceptable and he's never given in to that perception, that he doesn't have a great chance to win every time he takes the mound even though we've had a challenging year."
Heisey's solo drive with one out in the ninth off Jared Hughes (6-5) helped the Reds avoid getting swept at PNC Park. Heisey began the day with just five homers in 229 at-bats this year.
"It's been a challenging year for him," Price said. "I don't think he's accomplished what he set out to do this year."
Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 29th save.
Heisey tied the game at 2 in the fifth, connecting after Ryan Ludwick drew a leadoff walk from Francisco Liriano.
Heisey finished 2 for 4 and drove in all three of Cincinnati's runs.
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