CINCINNATI - Clint Hurdle was disappointed with the loss. He was excited, at least, that his young Pirates got to play in a big game.
Mat Latos pitched shutout ball into the eighth inning and hit a two-run homer Friday night as the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds opened a three-game series against their closest pursuers with a 3-0 win over Pittsburgh.
Chris Heisey hustled for an inside-the-park home run and Aroldis Chapman closed out the win that gave the Reds a 4-game lead over the Pirates.
"They got a bounce off the wall and a pitcher hit a fastball out. That's not supposed to happen," Hurdle said.
"I'm not happy that we lost but this is a great experience for us. We played the hottest team in baseball at their home park in front of a sellout crowd. It is what you need to do to take the next step. The next step is to win."
The Reds have won 14 of 15 and moved 24 games over .500 for the first time since 1999.
Latos (10-3) allowed four hits in 7 1/3 innings. Jonathan Broxton got a key double play to end the eighth and Chapman recorded his 24th save.
Latos hit his third career home run, connecting in the fifth against Wandy Rodriguez (7-10).
"I was surprised. I didn't think he was going to swing," Rodriguez said. "It was a big, big mistake."
Latos was surprised that manager Dusty Baker let him swing.
"A lot of times Dusty will give us the take sign ... Then here comes the fastball down the middle and it looks like a beach ball and I can't swing," he said. "He got me the first time. Wandy has one of the best breaking balls in the league. What are you going to do with that when you're down strike one?"
Zack Cozart added three hits for the Reds. The series was Cincinnati's first against a team over .500 after five straight against clubs with losing records.
Latos allowed just one runner past second base, none after the first inning. He struck out five, walked three and improved to 4-0 in five career starts against the Pirates.
Broxton entered with runners on first and second. The newly acquired reliever got pinch hitter Gaby Sanchez - acquired from Miami right before Tuesday's trading deadline - to ground into Pittsburgh's third double play of the night.
Chapman struck out two in the ninth. He hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch with two outs.
"I'm not going to talk about the ninth inning, so if that's all you're going to ask me, I don't have anything to say," McCutchen said.
Then the top hitter in the majors looked ahead.
"We have to come out tomorrow with the mindset that we're going to win. They made more plays than us tonight. We had opportunities but they got double plays when they needed them," he said.
The Reds already led 1-0 in the fifth when Latos followed Ryan Hanigan's two-out single with a 367-foot drive into the left-field seats for his first homer of the season.
Rodriguez (7-10), acquired by Pittsburgh from Houston for three minor leaguers on July 24, has lost his last four decisions and is 0-1 in two starts with the Pirates. He allowed seven hits and three runs with no walks and four strikeouts.
Heisey put the Reds ahead in the second when he lofted a drive to deep left field that eluded Starling Marte's attempt at a leaping catch. The ball glanced off the wall and rolled toward left-center field, and Heisey was waved home by third base coach Mark Berry and just beat the relay to the plate.
"We thought the tag might have been a little high or we'd have had him," Hurdle said. "We had to look at the replay 20 times. The umpire doesn't get to do that. If we didn't miss the first relay we could have gotten him, too. The truth be told, McCutchen got caught up watching the play. He's probably thinking, 'come on make the catch,' then he sees the carom and explodes to the ball."
The inside-the-park homer was Cincinnati's second of the season and the second of Heisey's career. He hit one on Aug. 2, 2010, at Pittsburgh. Jay Bruce hit one on June 15 against the Mets in New York.
"Overall, they pitched better than us and had better at-bats. We have to find a way to play better tomorrow," Hurdle said.
Game notes: The sellout crowd was Cincinnati's 10th of the season. The Great American Ball Park single-season record of 12 was set last season. ... Baker, assessing McCutchen, said, "If I had to pick an MVP, it would probably be him." ... The father-and-son acting team of Martin and Charlie Sheen was on hand. Martin Sheen is from Dayton and his son is an avid Reds fan.