CINCINNATI -- Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman have adjacent lockers in the Reds' clubhouse at Great American Ball Park. On Wednesday night, Cueto kept the Reds drama-free for seven innings against Pittsburgh. When the Pirates made things interesting late, his next-door neighbor ended the drama decisively.
Chapman needed just nine pitches in the ninth inning to back up Cueto's strong start and a four-run fourth by the offense, and the Reds increased their lead in the National League Central to three games with a 5-4 win over the second-place Pirates.
Chapman earned his sixth save of the season by retiring Pittsburgh in order, including three-pitch strikeouts of Casey McGehee and Rod Barajas to end the game.
"I feel really good that he closed the game for me," said Cueto. "I [ask] God that he continues to do this."
In 24 games covering 29 innings, Chapman has yet to allow an earned run, and he's allowed just 17 baserunners while striking out 52. He hadn't pitched since closing out last Saturday's 12-9 victory in Houston.
"That's the key for us, to keep him in that situation, to win ballgames without him and with him at the same time to keep him fresh like that," said manager Dusty Baker. "That way he's throwing 100 [mph] and throwing strikes. Quality strikes."
The way Cueto was pitching through the first seven innings, it didn't appear as though Chapman's services were going to be needed.
Cueto held the Pirates to three hits and four baserunners through the first seven innings before Pittsburgh scored four times in the eighth. He ended up allowing three runs on six hits in 7 2/3 innings but improved to 6-3, ending a personal two-game losing streak with his longest outing since pitching a complete game on May 4 at Pittsburgh.
"Everything started when I woke up. I felt how good my day is going to be," said Cueto. "When I went to the bullpen tonight, I felt like it was going to be OK."
The offense backed up those good feelings with early run support. Second baseman Brandon Phillips shook off a 0-for-5 game on Tuesday that included four strikeouts by homering in the second inning to give the Reds the lead. Left fielder Ryan Ludwick seemingly broke open the game with a three-run double in the fourth inning. Ryan Hanigan added an RBI single in the fourth, chasing Pittsburgh starter Brad Lincoln.
One night after the Pirates got to Homer Bailey for six runs in three innings and the Reds left 11 runners on base in an eventual 8-4 loss, Cueto didn't allow a runner to reach second base until the eighth inning.
"You see the reasons why the Reds are in first place," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. "[Cueto] is about as complete a package as there is in the league right now. He has four weapons for pitches, he controls the running the game, fields his position. He can get stretched out, well over 100 pitches."
The Reds' defense played a big part in the win. Cueto picked off Andrew McCutchen in the fourth inning after walking McCutchen with one out. That walk ended a streak of 10 consecutive batters retired by Cueto.
Chris Heisey robbed Barajas of possible extra bases in the fifth inning when he snared a drive to left field with a leaping grab against the 12-foot-high wall.
Then, in the sixth inning, after Cueto hit Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison leading off the inning, Hanigan threw out Harrison attempting to steal second base. Phillips took the throw on a hop and reached behind his body to tag Harrison.
The Pirates finally got something going against Cueto and the Reds' bullpen in the eighth. Barajas led off with a double to right field and went to third on a single by pinch-hitter Pedro Alvarez. Cueto got Harrison on a lineout to Phillips and struck out Alex Presley looking, but Neil Walker delivered a single to left field to score Barajas.
Logan Ondrusek came in to relieve Cueto and gave up a three-run homer to McCutchen. Ondrusek had allowed just one of 20 inherited runners to score this season, and none of the last 15, prior to McCutchen's homer.
Sean Marshall came in to get pinch-hitter Jose Tabata for the final out of the inning before giving way to Chapman in the ninth.
Kevin Goheen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.