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Pirates fail to complete sweep

Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) prepares to tag out Pittsburgh Pirates' Ben Gamel (18) who was attempting to score from third on a fielder's choice by Michael Perez during the second inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH — Cincinnati Reds reliever Mychal Givens has been around long enough to understand the rhythms of a season.

Funks happen. What defines a team is how it responds to them. With the Reds staggering at the end of a frustrating nine-game road trip, Givens delivered a fastball that gave Cincinnati a much-needed jolt, exorcising some bad vibes in the process.

Givens struck out Pittsburgh’s Hoy Park with a 98 mph heater to seal a 1-0 win over the Pirates on Thursday to send the Reds home for a pivotal series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with something akin to momentum.

Less than 24 hours after a stunning ninth-inning loss in which Givens surrendered the winning run when Wilmer Difo scored from second on a fielder’s choice, he bounced back by picking up his eighth save.

It wasn’t easy. The Pirates had the tying run on third and the winning run on second with two outs. Givens fell behind Park 3-0 before four straight fastballs — all 95 mph or better — ended the threat.

“Compete,” Givens said. “That’s all that matters.”

Something the Reds are trying to do in an effort to stay in the mix for the second NL wild-card spot. They entered the day 1¢ games behind St. Louis and were in danger of getting swept by the last-place Pirates.

Instead, Tyler Mahle battled through six innings, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a go-ahead, pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the seventh and the bullpen did the rest.

“It’s really important,” Givens said. “We needed this win today especially to continue to contend for a playoff spot.”

Mahle (12-5) allowed five hits — all singles — and struck out four with a walk as the Reds finished 3-6 during a nine-game swing through Chicago, St. Louis and Pittsburgh.

Cabrera, 0 for 18 since Cincinnati claimed him off waivers last month, provided the game’s only run while pinch-hitting for Mahle in the top of the seventh.

Ben Gamel had two of Pittsburgh’s six hits, but he was also thrown out at the plate in the second inning while trying to score from third on a fielder’s choice by Michael Perez. Cincinnati second baseman Jonathan India’s throw home was perfect and Stephenson had the ball by the time Gamel attempted to unsuccessfully slide under the tag.

Pittsburgh fell to 0-14 this season when trying to sweep an opponent. There were bright spots, however, for a club that went 6-3 during a nine-game homestand against Detroit, Washington and Cincinnati.

“We haven’t had a sweep all season but, as of late, we’re playing really good baseball,” Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes said. “Pitching’s there. Hitting’s there. So, that’s all we can ask for.”

Pirates rookie right-hander Connor Overton, claimed off waivers from Toronto earlier this month, worked three scoreless innings in his first career start.

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