It was more than fitting that the Cincinnati Reds wore military-style camouflage uniform tops and hats Wednesday night in Great American Ball Park.
It was like the old military song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” because Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto marched through the Los Angeles Dodgers the way Genghis Khan flattened Turkey.
Cueto held the Dodgers to no runs and three hits over six innings, walking none and striking out 12 for the pizza-lovers. He needed 112 pitches to get through six innings so he only made it through two-thirds of his assignment.
But what a two-thirds it was as Cueto lowered his earned-run average to 1.85 and pushed his record above .500 at 6-5. And the Reds actually scored three runs in the third inning so Cueto could take a deep breath now and then.
“That’s why we call him Johnny Beisbol,” said catcher Brayan Pena. Cueto actually wears a t-shirt that says Johnny Beisbol. “Johnny does what he always does best and that’s pitching. The fact we scored some runs for him made a big difference because he can go out there and relax.
“He is one of those guys who if you give him a few runs he can use all his arsenal, go after them with everything he has. He asked for just a little run support and he’ll give us a chance to win the ballgame.”
Cueto’s effort, coupled with a two-run double by Joey Votto and a home run by Jay Bruce, lifted the Reds to a 5-0 victory after losing the first two of this four-game series.
Cueto was a strikeout machine. He struck out one in the first, two in the second, two in the third, two in the fourth, three in the fifth and two in the sixth. He struck out Yasiel Puig two times, both on disputed calls by rookie umpire Seth Buckminster. Cueto is the fourth Reds pitcher since 1914 to strike out at least 12 batters in six innings, joining Jim Maloney, Dennys Reyes and Edinson Volquez.
When Matt Kemp struck out for the second time in two at-bats, a called third strike in the fifth, Kemp howled at the plate and kept howling from the dugout, earning himself an ejection, the eighth of his career.
Cueto said he could have pitched one more inning and even stated his case after six innings to manager Bryan Price, but Price wouldn’t budge.
“I told him I could go one more inning, but he said no and that was that because he is the manager,” said Cueto.
Price is protecting his golden arm.
“They dragged out a lot of at-bats and fouled off a lot of good pitches,” said Price. “They made him throw a lot of pitches. Subsequently he was out of there after six innings, but those were six innings we had to have. He couldn’t have given us a better effort.”
Cueto smiled broadly when it was mentioned how hard he had to work because the Dodgers made him throw a lot of pitches and he said, “Yes, I was trying to strike them all out.” He nearly succeeded — 12 of the 21 batters he faced.
To make it a complete pitcher’s night, after Cueto left, the bullpen put a yellow ribbon on the shutout with Logan Ondrusek, Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman stringing it out. Chapman finished it with two strikeouts, the last one a 100-mph fastball that Scott Van Slyke took. And he knew it was strike three. He was leaving the batter’s box and headed for the showers before Buckminster bellowed his call.
Cueto was matched against Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu, who nearly pitched a perfect game against the Reds earlier this season, retiring the first 21 batters he faced. And Ryu brought a 5-0 road record this season with a 0.95 ERA.
The Reds took it to him with two outs and nobody on in the third when he walked Billy Hamilton. After Hamilton stole second, Ryu also walked Todd Frazier and Votto slapped a two-run double down the left-field line. Brandon Phillips lobbed a single to left to make it 3-0.
“When I got the three-run lead I said to myself I have to tighten it up right now because these are the innings they are going to come after me,” Cueto said.
Bruce gave him an extra run in the bottom of the sixth with a 420-foot home run to right field and Cueto was tighter than a Swiss watch in making certain nothing sprang loose.