CINCINNATI -- Baserunning is one of the most overlooked facets of baseball.
Saturday night, the most forgotten tool in the game came into play in the biggest way possible.
The score was tied entering the eighth inning, and Scott Rolen stood at the plate with a full count, battling Pirates reliever Jared Hughes.
Rolen sent the seventh pitch of the at-bat deep off the top of the wall in right-center field. The 37-year-old third baseman hustled around the bases and slid into third to stretch out a triple, sending the crowd of 41,500-plus into eruption.
He gave the fans even more reason to celebrate when he scampered home one pitch later on Todd Frazier's infield bouncer to the pitcher, toward first base, to propel the Reds to a 5-4 victory against the Pirates, which secured the series win.
"It was a miserable 90 feet," Rolen said of his game-winning run. "You just think you're dead the whole way. I knew I was taking a little bit of a gamble there and it was probably going to be a close play. Generally, with no outs, maybe you're not that aggressive. But I saw it and read it and felt like I could make it, and it worked out."
Things have been working out quite nicely for the Reds recently. The club has won 22 of its past 25 games and has now fattened its lead in the National League Central to 5 1/2 games over the Pirates.
The numbers may point in favor of the Reds, but it's been far from an easy road to victory in recent weeks, with Saturday night being no exception.
The Pirates came into the game extra juiced up from Friday night's late-inning incident, when Aroldis Chapman plunked Andrew McCutchen in the shoulder with two outs in the ninth inning.
"It just pumped us up," McCutchen said after Friday's game "And that's the feeling we're going to take on the field [Saturday]."
The energy from both sides was palpable from the very beginning.
The Reds jumped out early on Pirates starter James McDonald, striking for two quick runs in the opening frame.
Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs led off the game with back-to-back singles, and both runners advanced to scoring position on a throwing error from Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
McDonald struck out the next two batters, but Rolen lined a single to right-center field to drive in both runs and put the Reds ahead, 2-0, after one inning.
"[Rolen] is a good guy with runners on base," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "When a team is hot, you see everyone throw in something. We've seen it from our side, now we're seeing it from their side."
The Pirates would answer back with a run of their own in the top of the second to cut the lead in half. That's when Friday night's tension spilled over into Saturday's contest.
Reds starter Mike Leake hit Josh Harrison in the left thigh with two outs. The two players exchanged words as Harrison made his way to first base, and home-plate umpire Brian Gorman issued a warning to both benches.
Hurdle came out of the dugout visibly frustrated with the repeat occurrence and began having a tense conversation with Gorman that eventually led to his ejection and further heated discussions.
The Cincinnati crowd didn't need any additional reason to get fired up, but the ejection gave them just that.
"It's like a playoff atmosphere in here almost every day," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "Both sides played tough, we're just happy we got it."
The two sides chipped at each other back and forth, with the Pirates finally drawing even in the sixth inning, aided by a Reds miscue.
With Garrett Jones on second, Leake fanned Alvarez, but catcher Dioner Navarro, making his Reds debut, couldn't handle the third strike. The wild pitch allowed Jones to head to third, and he was driven in one batter later on a sacrifice fly to center.
The score tied the game at 4 and marked the end of Leake's outing.
"I'm not worried about wins and losses, I'm just glad I kept us in the game today," said Leake, who allowed four runs on six hits, striking out seven, in six innings. "I would have liked to come out of there with a one-run lead, but it's baseball and stuff like that is going to happen. We have one of the best, if not the best, [bullpens], so you feel comfortable going into those last innings."
The Reds turned to three of the strongest arms in the 'pen for the final three innings. Southpaw Sean Marshall pitched the seventh, Jonathan Broxton tossed the eighth to earn his first win of the season and Chapman navigated a tricky ninth for his 25th save, striking out two after allowing a one-out single to strand the tying run at second.
"If we can just run out there and do our job, it really makes the game shorter," Broxton said. "Everybody is out there playing hard every day, and that's all we can ask for. We go out there and play hard on an everyday basis, and we'll walk away, hopefully, with a victory at the end of the day."
The Reds have been victors in 18 of 21 games since the All-Star break and will shoot for their fourth straight sweep of a division rival on Sunday.
Mark Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.