CINCINNATI -- Casey McGehee had 52 career home runs entering this season. But when he hit his first homer as a member of the Pirates on Tuesday, McGehee's teammates gave him the rookie silent treatment when he arrived at the dugout. It was a rare moment of levity for the blue-collar Bucs.
"We've had to scratch and claw and find our way," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "You want to compete and battle, but have fun while you're doing it. We needed this."
In Tuesday night's opener of a three-game series in Cincinnati, the Pirates got home runs from McGehee, Alex Presley and Neil Walker in an 8-4 victory over the Reds, which propelled them into sole possession of second place in the National League Central Division.
The Pirates, who've won 11 of their past 17 games, now trail first-place Cincinnati by just two games in the standings. The Bucs are 26-20 since April 15, the second-best record in the NL.
"Tonight shows what we're capable of offensively," Walker said. "Up and down the lineup, day after day, we've been able to relax and compete."
At the top, Presley, recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis prior to the game, went 2-for-5 with a triple, homer and two runs scored. At the bottom, Clint Barmes went 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs. "We've anticipated that," said Hurdle of Barmes, who is 5-for-8 in his past two games since snapping an 0-for-12 skid.
The 12-hit night for the Pirates' offense helped starter A.J. Burnett pick up his fifth victory despite a rough first inning and elevated pitch count. Burnett allowed three earned runs, two in the first, walked four and struck out eight in a five-inning, 100-pitch effort.
"I was able to find my curveball later on," Burnett said. "I used a lot of my pitches early on. But it's a good sign for our offense to get some early runs. This team never gives up.
Burnett was dominant in his last start against the Reds, allowing just one unearned run in seven innings in a 2-1 Pirates' win over the Reds on May 30. But he entered Tuesday's game with a 7.89 career ERA in four starts at Great American Ball Park.
He allowed the first three batters to reach, including Joey Votto who laced an RBI single to center putting Cincinnati ahead 1-0. Jay Bruce's sacrifice fly gave the Reds a two-run lead. Burnett needed 24 pitches to get through the first inning. But he settled down from there.
Hurdle's game plan was to test Reds rookie catcher Devin Mesoraco. "We're just trying to find ways to do things differently, so [opponents] don't paint the same picture of us," Hurdle said.
Andrew McCutchen tested Mesoraco in the first inning, but was thrown out attempting to reach second when a pitch caromed away from the Reds' backstop. Garrett Jones, Matt Hague and Walker each had stolen bases in the first four innings.
The Pirates orchestrated a two-out rally in the second off Reds starter Homer Bailey.
Jones stole second, reached third on a groundout and scored on McGehee's single to right making the score 2-1. Barmes doubled to the wall in left-center driving home Rod Barajas to tie the score at 2.
"It was pretty simple; the fastball was up a little bit and I never could get a feel for my slider [and] curveball," said Bailey. "When you have nights like that, it's going to be a short one."
In the third, Presley tripled and scored on Walker's mammoth home run which landed in the grassy knoll behind center, 419 feet away giving the Pirates a 4-2 lead. Barmes' bases-loaded single drove in two more runs to make the score 6-2.
Reds starter Homer Bailey allowed six earned runs on eight hits in three innings pitched.
"The big blow was the bases loaded, two-out single by Barmes," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Homer could have maybe gone back out there another inning with, at the time, it being 4-2. But he had trouble locating his fastball, and his secondary pitches tonight weren't as good as they have been."
McGehee hit his first home run of the season, a solo shot off J.J. Hoover to make the score 7-2 in the fifth. Presley added a solo shot off Hoover in the sixth.
Chris Resop ran into trouble in the seventh when he walked Jay Bruce to load the bases with two outs. But he struck out Chris Heisey on three pitches to end the inning.
In the ninth, the first three Reds reached against Tony Watson. Votto's RBI hit to right drove home Zack Cozart to make the score, 8-4. Joel Hanrahan replaced Watson and struck out three straight batters to earn his 15th save.
Jeff Wallner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.