It took one pitch for Tyler Naquin to show the Cincinnati Reds’ hit parade was going to continue in their series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.
Naquin thumped a 94-mph fastball over the left-field fence and became the first Reds player to hit leadoff homers in consecutive games since Eddie Milner on June 24-25, 1984.
That rest of the lineup continued its historic pace in an 11-4 victory to sweep the Pirates at Great American Ball Park, giving the Reds their fifth consecutive win. The Reds have scored more runs in the first six games of the season (57) than any Reds team in franchise history, topping the record held by the 1976 Big Red Machine team (51).
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It's the third-most runs scored by a National League team in the first six games of a season since 1900, according to Baseball-Reference's archives.
"We play with heart," Reds rookie Jonathan India said. "We play with a lot of pride. We’re just a bunch of ballers out there, that’s the bottom line."
A lot of problems are solved when a team is hitting as well as the Reds, but their winning streak is about more than their offense.
Their defense shined in the fourth inning. With a runner on second base and one out, Nick Castellanos attempted a sliding catch down the right-field line. Castellanos came up short on the fly ball from Phillip Evans, but he deflected it near himself.
Castellanos made a quick throw toward the infield and India, the second baseman, heard that Wilmer Difo was running home. India hurried his turn in the relay and fired a dart to the plate.
Catcher Tyler Stephenson, not allowed to block the plate, caught India’s throw and applied the tag before Difo's hand could reach the back of the plate for a highlight out. The crowd of 11,463 roared with approval.
"Our defense, I think, has gotten a little bit lost because we’ve been scoring some runs and we’ve pitched well, " Reds manager David Bell said, "but I thought today was another good example of just a lot of good defensive plays."
It was one of those defensive plays where every little thing made the play possible. Castellanos had a good jump on the fly ball and his attempt at a sliding grab meant Difo had to stay at second base a little longer to tag up on a potential catch.
Good communication alerted India in enough time where he could make a perfect throw home.
"I was screaming my lungs out, 'Four! Four! Four!'" said shortstop Kyle Farmer, who hit a two-run double in the first inning. "John made that play look really, really easy. But that's a really hard play, especially for an infielder turning around and not even crow-hopping.
"It's a very hard play. God, he nailed it. It was perfect."
If that wasn't enough, then there was Luis Castillo. He bounced back from a poor Opening Day start to throw seven scoreless frames. He struck out five and permitted just five base runners on four hits and a walk.
He pounded the strike zone with a two-pitch mix – fastballs and changeups – throwing 61 of his 81 pitches for strikes. After Castillo struck out his final batter of the afternoon, a 95-mph fastball for a called third strike, he was greeted with hugs in the dugout from his teammates.
"Luis is nasty," Farmer said. "He was throwing wiffleballs up there."
Life is a lot easier on pitchers when they’re given an enormous amount of run support. Reds starting pitchers have allowed five earned runs across 28 innings (1.61 ERA) during their five-game winning streak, striking out 35.
When Castillo was asked about the offense in his post-game interview, he said the word "incredible" four times.
"We're ready to get out of Cincinnati," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said.
The Reds, off to their first 5-1 start since 2016, had a one-game lead in the National League Central after their win Tuesday, the first time that’s happened since May 7, 2018.
It's been a busy week for people checking the record books. India had 10 RBI in his first 20 career at-bats. It’s the fifth-most RBI in a player’s first six career games, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Castellanos hit a solo homer to right field to open the fifth inning, his fourth of the season, tying Naquin and Colorado’s Ryan McMahon for the Major League lead. The Reds are the fourth team in MLB history, according to Elias, to have two players with at least four homers through the team’s first six games of the season.
Stephenson was the only Reds’ starting position player without a hit until he homered in the eighth inning. Then Aristides Aquino, the first player off the bench, made it back-to-back homers on the next pitch.
The Reds have an off-day Thursday before beginning a six-game West Coast road trip. They’ll face the Arizona Diamondbacks at 9:40 p.m. Friday.
"The intensity is good," Bell said. "The determination to win games is there and by no means do I sense any sort of let up. Guys are way too smart for that. They know what’s ahead of us.
"But I think it is OK to be excited and to feel good about how we played, and feel good about how we started the season. ... It’s been a good week."