SAN DIEGO -- A grueling West Coast road trip -- 11 games in 11 days -- to close the first half was fraught with some perilous moments for the Reds. Just getting home with a winning record on the trip is a worthy achievement.
That happened on Sunday when the Reds took a 4-2 victory over the Padres to take the final three games of the four-game series and finish with a 6-5 record at San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
"I'll take 6-5 but I'm a greedy man when it comes to victories," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "You start thinking sometimes of what could have been even though we can't bring it back. We could have been 7-4 or 8-3 too with a couple of games, a couple of more hits, anything. It's OK. That's what we'll take."
Sure, it could have been better, as there were two one-run losses and three straight losses where Cincinnati was held to one run. They were shut out by the Giants on the first day, and they lost two of three in the Dodgers series.
Meanwhile, the first-place Pirates (48-38) have won nine of their last 11 games to maintain a one-game lead over the second-place Reds (47-38). That made winning these last three even more important.
"We needed that, especially after the L.A. series where we dropped two out of three," said Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick, who joined with Jay Bruce to hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning. "We came back and got three out of four here, that's key."
The Reds' 10-game streak of getting a quality start on the trip ended as Johnny Cueto lasted 5 2/3 innings while throwing 108 pitches. Cueto, who earned his 10th victory on his third attempt, gave up two runs and seven hits with two walks, two hit batsmen and five strikeouts.
"I was concentrating on win No. 10," said Cueto, who is 10-5 with a 2.39 ERA after winning nine games last season. "That was my goal when the season started. I am very happy with that. My goal is to keep pitching good, try to help this team to be in the playoffs."
It was another lousy day for situational hitting as Cincinnati was 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 on base.
"That was a big game today, especially after the fact we left a lot of men on third with less than two outs," Baker said. "We kept them close in the ballgame."
The game was scoreless until the fourth inning. Brandon Phillips led off the top half with a single to left field against Padres starter Jason Marquis. Bruce, who just missed hitting a homer on a warning track drive to center field in the second inning, had better luck in the fourth when he crushed a 2-0 pitch for a homer to center field -- his team-leading 18th of the season.
"I'm not trying to brag but if I hit it well, it's going to go," Bruce said. "I hit the first one OK, the second one I got better."
Ludwick followed Bruce by sending a 1-0 Marquis pitch into the left field seats for his 12th homer of the year and a 3-0 Reds lead.
"That stretch of three hitters in the middle of their order -- Phillips, Bruce and Ludwick -- were tough," Padres manager Bud Black said. "When you homer like they do, [you] win. Jason has to stay down and those balls weren't quite down enough."
Cueto started to struggle in the fifth inning as Cameron Maybin hit a leadoff double and later scored from third base on Chris Denorfia's fielder's choice play. Cueto, who also hit a batter and gave up a two-out single in the fifth, could not escape a sixth-inning jam, however.
Yasmani Grandal hit a one-out single to left field and Yonder Alonso bounced a single to right field. With two outs, Everth Cabrera blooped a broken bat single to left field that loaded the bases. Cueto dueled pinch-hitter Mark Kotsay in a nine-pitch plate appearance, but lost him to a walk that forced home Grandal.
"The [third] inning, I ran from first to third," said Cueto. "My legs were kind of tired the next inning."
Cueto was lifted from the game and reliever Sam LeCure threw one pitch to escape with a Denorfia fly out to right field. After Phillips' RBI single in the top of the seventh scored Zack Cozart, LeCure walked two batters in the bottom half, but was picked up by Sean Marshall. The lefty worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings on a nice afternoon.
"[Cueto] was in trouble a lot," Baker said. "When he walked Kotsay, that was enough. Sam LeCure came on and did a great job. Marshall did an outstanding job. He went longer than usual but we needed him in that situation."
Aroldis Chapman made it back-to-back games with saves as he notched No. 11 with a 1-2-3 ninth.
And finally, the Reds could exhale and go take some time off. Play resumes Friday vs. the Cardinals and the team has a Thursday night workout.
"They battled. Everybody is kind of running on fumes," Baker said. "What I asked was, just play through to the break, take some days off and come back Thursday ready to play."