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RF Heisey, Reds avert sweep with a victory over Pirates at PNC Park

| Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, 4:57 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
The Cincinnati Reds' Chris Heisey rounds the bases past Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer after hitting a home run during the fifth inning Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Reds third baseman Khris Negron makes a diving catch in foul territory to retire the Pirates' Ike Davis with runners on second and third base during the eighth inning Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto smiles after dropping a ball during the sixth inning against the Pirates on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Fans battle for a home run ball hit by the Reds' Chris Heisey as Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer watches during the ninth inning Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison rounds the bases after hitting a solo homer during the first inning against the Reds on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto picks off the Pirates' Starling Marte during the second inning Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano delivers to the plate during the sixth nning against the Reds on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison watches his solo homer during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte gets caught in a rundown between the Cincinnati Reds' Todd Frazier and Ramon Santiago during the second inning Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle removes reliever Jared Hughes from the game during the ninth inning against the Reds on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
The Reds' Chris Heisey high-fives pitcher Johnny Cueto in the dugout after homering during the ninth inning against the Pirates on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Reds closer Aroldis Chapman pitches during the ninth inning against the Pirates on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Fans battle for a home run ball hit by the Pirates' Jordy Mercer as the Reds' Ryan Ludwick watches during the second inning Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte strikes out during the ninth inning against the Reds on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, at PNC Park

For a while, Sunday felt like the last fall's NL wild-card game. Fans waved Jolly Roger flags, and chants of “Kwaaaayyyyy-toe” rained down in packed PNC Park, which was sold out for the 18th time this season.

Then Chris Heisey crashed the party.

The Reds' right fielder belted two home runs Sunday, including a game-winner in the ninth inning, to give the Reds a 3-2 win over the Pirates.

With the score tied and one out in the ninth, Heisey golfed a 93 mph, down-and-in sinker from Jared Hughes just inside the left field foul pole for the deciding hit.

“He did an excellent job hitting that pitch,” Hughes said. “It was in off the plate.”

The Pirates (71-65) have won three straight series against NL Central Division opponents as they begin an important 10-game road trip Monday. But for a while Sunday, it looked as if the Pirates would secure a series sweep.

Reds starter Johnny Cueto figuratively dropped the ball early when Josh Harrison began the game with a lead-off home run. In the second inning, Cueto hung a breaking pitch to Jordy Mercer, who smashed a solo shot to stake the Pirates to a 2-0 lead.

Just as they had done last October when the Pirates roughed up Cueto to advance to the NL Division Series, the crowd began chanting Cueto's surname, perfect for the exercise with its two lyrical syllables. The chants didn't seem to bother Cueto, who settled down to pitch six straight scoreless innings.

Also like last October, Francisco Liriano was matched against Cueto.

Liriano got ahead of Reds' hitters early and wiped them out with his slider. Liriano struck out the side in the first all on sliders, all swinging, just as he had often done last season in pitching the Pirates into the playoffs.

Liriano demonstrated better fastball command, starting 11 of the first 14 batters he faced with strikes. And for the second start in a row, Liriano did not allow a hit until the fourth inning, when Todd Frazier singled.

The Pirates need Liriano to be great as he was last season if they are going to push their way into the playoffs. Liriano has shown second-half improvement as he has returned to full health, posting a 2.78 ERA over 55 second-half innings compared to a 4.72 ERA in the first half.

After being dominant for four innings, Liriano walked Ryan Ludwick on four pitches to begin the fifth inning. Heisey followed by belting a first-pitch changeup for a game-tying home run.

“Everything was working. I was using both sides of plate, everything was down,” Liriano said. “I just made a mistake in the fifth. … I feel great physically, and I feel I've been throwing the ball well the last month.”

Liriano allowed two runs and five hits over seven innings. He threw a season-high 111 pitches.

The Pirates had a chance to break a tie in the eighth. With runners on second and third and two outs, Ike Davis lofted a fly ball down the third base line that Reds third baseman Kris Negron, with his back to the infield, corralled with a diving catch.

Because Cueto settled down, the Pirates never were able to get into the middle part of the Reds' bullpen. Flame-throwing Reds closer Aroldis Chapman ended the game with 100 mph heat, leaving the sellout crowd quiet — a stark contrast from last October.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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