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Reds survive ninth-inning drama

Aroldis Chapman doesn’t often show much emotion after a final out. Ever since he performed a somersault after completing a save in 2012, he has rarely flinched after striking out the final batter — maybe because it’s so routine.

However, after he fanned the Pirates’ Jordy Mercer with runners at first and third and two outs in the ninth inning Saturday, Chapman proved he’s no statue, pumping his fist and shouting in celebration before hugging catcher Devin Mesoraco to celebrate a 5-4 victory in front of a crowd of 34,728 at Great American Ball Park.

“You could tell it was on a different level out there,” Mesoraco said. “Those guys are such a good club, and in that situation, to be able to get out of it, that’s pretty special.”

The Reds (55-42) now trail the second-place Pirates (56-39) by two games in the National League Central and the wild-card race. If the season ended today, Cincinnati would play in Pittsburgh in a one-game, wild-card playoff.

It was the 23rd save for Chapman (3-3, 2.66 ERA) and one of his most difficult. He gave up an infield hit to Andrew McCutchen to begin the inning, and then threw wildly to first on a pickoff move, allowing McCutchen to advance to second.

An error by Zack Cozart on a grounder by Pedro Alvarez gave the Pirates runners at first and third with no outs. But Chapman got Russell Martin to pop up and then struck out Michael McKenry to bring up Mercer.

Mesoraco explained the strategy at that point.

“Usually, he doesn’t pitch in a whole lot,” he said. “As a closer, you want them to beat you to the bigger part of the ballpark. In that situation, with a guy on third and less than one out, we needed to create soft contact. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to pitch in.

“I didn’t want to get beat with the second-best pitch, so everybody in the stadium knew what was coming. We were going to throw fastballs in and hope we could get soft contact like we did against Russell there with the soft pop up, or we could get it past him and strike him out, like he did with McKenry.”

Mesoraco was proud Chapman didn’t let the errors affect him.

“That was good to see, the way he took everything in stride and continued to make pitches,” Mesoraco said. “That was fun to watch.”

Mat Latos (9-3, 3.53) got the win despite lasting just five innings. He weathered a 77-minute rain delay, which began in the middle of the first inning, better than Pirates starter A.J. Burnett.

The Reds scored four runs off Burnett in the first inning when play resumed. Burnett settled down after that and didn’t allow another run until the sixth when he walked Joey Votto with the bases loaded. That run turned out to the game-winner.

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