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Must C Clutch: Votto's homer gives Reds lead in 10th

PITTSBURGH -- It's still September on the calendar, but the Reds and Pirates played a game on Friday that had all the trappings of what October should feel like.

In a thriller, the Reds were down to their final out before they scored four unanswered runs over the ninth and 10th innings for a 6-5 victory. The game-winner came on Joey Votto's solo home run with one out in the top of the 10th against Kyle Farnsworth.

"We hadn't come back in a long time, especially on the road," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "In past years, it was the norm for us to come back."

It was easily the biggest win of the Reds' season, and it came after they entered with a 2-54 record when trailing after eight innings. Their previous win in that situation came against the Pirates on June 19, a 2-1 victory in 13 innings at Great American Ball Park.

Just like that, the Reds moved into a tie with Pittsburgh for second place in the National League Central and the first NL Wild Card spot with matching 88-66 records. They are two games behind the first-place Cardinals, who defeated the Brewers, 7-6, in 10 innings on Friday night.

"This is the team we're competing against. To come out and get that first one is very important," said Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco, who hit a two-run single in the ninth to make it a 5-5 game.

Pirates 16-game winner and lefty starter Francisco Liriano held the Reds down for most of his eight innings and 94 pitches, but the Reds found life against closer Mark Melancon in the ninth.

Ryan Ludwick hit a one-out single to right field. With two outs, Todd Frazier grounded to shortstop, but the would-be final out was lost when Jordy Mercer flipped a terrible throw into the seats behind first base for a two-base error that scored Ludwick.

"Jordy makes that play 99 out of 100 times," Melancon said. "You know what? That doesn't kill us, we still have an opportunity to win after that."

Next was Zack Cozart, who hit Melancon's first pitch for a single that put the tying run on first base and Frazier at third base. Cincinnati sent speedster Billy Hamilton to pinch-run for Cozart, and it immediately changed the game. As Mesoraco batted, Hamilton stole second base, making him 10-for-10 in steals.

Mesoraco fell into a 2-2 count to Melancon before battling to foul off four straight pitches, including three tough offspeed offerings.

"I really just went up there and just started battling my [butt] off, that's it," Mesoraco said. "That was my only goal -- to go up there and battle, battle, and hopefully he'd leave one over the plate I could put a half-decent swing on and hopefully find a hole."

Finally, on the ninth pitch, Mesoraco bounced a ball off of diving third baseman Pedro Alvarez's glove, and both Frazier and Hamilton motored home on the infield hit to tie the game and give Melancon two straight blown saves.

"I thought it was going to get through," Mesoraco said. "He made a diving attempt there and knocked it down. I think with Billy's speed, if it kicked away just a little bit, he was going to get in there. Give him so much credit. He's come up here and stole a lot of big bases for us. He's been a little shot in the arm here."

Pinch-hitter Xavier Paul's single off of new reliever Tony Watson put runners on the corners and the go-ahead run 90 feet away. Shin-Soo Choo shot a ball off of Watson, who recovered in time to throw out Choo in a headfirst slide at first base.

Votto, who made the first out in the ninth, was impressed with his teammates' effort during the rally.

"For us to have done that in a game like this against this squad, against that pitcher, is even more rare, and it's really impressive," Votto said. "Guys just strung together a bunch of tough at-bats."

In the 10th inning, with one out, Votto had a 2-0 count vs. Farnsworth when he lifted a ball that went toward the left-field corner.

"I didn't think it was going to be a home run or fair. I was pretty stunned," Votto said.

The ball landed in the first row of seats to leave the sellout crowd of 37,940 fans stunned.

"First I was rooting for left fielder [Starling] Marte not to catch it," Baker said. "I didn't think that ball was going to go over. Like Hank Aaron said, 'It's not how far, but how many.' The ball went into the front row. It still counts as if you'd hit a tape-measure homer. That was big."

J.J. Hoover earned the win with a scoreless ninth inning. Aroldis Chapman closed it out with a perfect 10th for his 38th save.

In a matchup of both teams' best starters this season, Mat Latos was easily outpitched by Liriano. But the Reds drew first blood in the top of the first on a two-out RBI single by Ludwick, who snapped an 0-for-15 skid and gave Cincinnati a brief 1-0 lead.

Very brief.

Latos, who had allowed only one home run over his previous 10 starts, gave up two within two Pirates batters. On a 1-1 pitch, Jose Tabata hit a leadoff homer to left field, and Neil Walker went deep to center field on the next pitch for back-to-back long balls.

Two more runs crossed on Latos in the fourth inning. In the fifth inning, Frazier's leadoff homer to center field on Liriano's 1-0 pitch put the Reds back within two runs. Reliever Logan Ondrusek gave up a run in the seventh on Tabata's RBI single to center field. It proved to not be enough insurance.

Tensions mounted in the eighth, when Reds reliever Sam LeCure plunked Andrew McCutchen in the left shoulder, bringing warnings to both benches. Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle was ejected after arguing the warnings to both sides.

But it was only a prelude to the wild conclusion that was still to come. The Reds have won four in a row and are surging at the right time. With eight games left in the regular season, five are vs. the Pirates.

"The emotion we had in the dugout [in the ninth] carried over to the field," Mesoraco said. "We were able to get some guys on base, and they gave us an extra out there that certainly helped."

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