CINCINNATI (AP) — Clinching a division championship caught up with the Cincinnati Reds a day later.
Carlos Lee had three hits and Nelson Figueroa took advantage of a Cincinnati lineup missing all of its regulars as the Houston Astros beat the newly crowned NL Central champions 2-0 Wednesday night.
Manager Dusty Baker rested every one of his starting position players on the day after the Reds clinched their first division championship and postseason berth since 1995.
“I haven’t seen too many teams win the day after they clinched,” Baker said. “(Thursday), most of the team will be out there. We were so high (Tuesday). You’ve got to pick yourself back up he next day.”
Figueroa (6-4), who had been 0-2 in his previous three starts, capitalized with 6 2-3 shutout innings. He allowed six hits and three walks.
“It was one of those things where I knew a few of those hitters from playing against them,” Figueroa said. “There were a bunch of guys I have never gotten a chance to face. As the pitcher, you have the advantage. My biggest thing was to get ahead of them and put them away early.”
Wilton Lopez relieved with a runner on base and struck out pinch-hitter Jay Bruce, whose game-ending home run Tuesday night clinched Cincinnati’s division title.
Fernando Abad pitched a perfect eighth and Brandon Lyon allowed a single in the ninth for his 20th save in 22 chances. Matt Lindstrom has 23 saves, making Houston the fifth team in major league history with two pitchers recording at least 20 saves in the same season. The last was the 1992 Reds, who had Norm Charlton with 26 and Rob Dibble with 25.
Houston manager Brad Mills appreciated the versatility.
“Anytime you can get a guy at the back end of the game that you have confidence in, it’s pretty special,” Mills said. “We have two guys with 20 saves. That just doesn’t happen. I think we’re the fifth team in baseball to have it happen. It goes to show how special it really is.”
Johnny Cueto (12-7), who allowed a season-high eight runs in 1 1-3 innings of his previous start at Milwaukee, bounced back to give up one earned run in seven innings.
“Today, I was more calm,” Cueto said. “My level of concentration was better.”
Cueto finished with exactly 100 pitches, 64 of them for strikes, in his postseason tuneup. He allowed eight hits, walked none and struck out four. He also was called for a balk while slipping to 0-3 in his last six starts since beating the Cubs on Aug. 27.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I just do my job. The other parts of the team have to do their jobs. I feel good because I’ve done my job.”
Baker hopes Cueto’s winless stretch ends at what would be the perfect time for the Reds.
“What’s it been, a month?” he wondered. “We’ve been trying to get him off those 12 wins. He’s due for a real long streak.”
The Reds went into the game with the fourth-best record among the five teams that either had clinched playoff berths or were still in contention. They were a game behind San Francisco in the race for the second-best record.
Cincinnati, the league leader in most of the key hitting categories, was shut out for the 13th time this season. The shutout win was Houston’s 10th.
The Astros took a 1-0 lead in the first on doubles by former Red Jeff Keppinger and Lee. They widened their lead to 2-0 in the seventh when Lee led off with a single and moved to second on Chris Johnson’s sharp one-hopper off Cueto’s left ankle. Lee continued to third when rookie first baseman Yonder Alonso fielded the carom and threw the ball away trying to toss the ball behind his back to Cueto. Lee scored on Brett Wallace’s grounder.
Notes: Reds RHP Mike Leake is done for the season, Baker said. Cincinnati’s top 2009 draft pick hasn’t pitched since Aug. 24 because of fatigue in his right shoulder. “There’s not enough time for him to get ready,” said Baker, adding that Leake will travel with the team. … Bruce on Tuesday joined Bobby Thomson (Giants, 1951), Hank Aaron (Braves, 1957), Alfonso Soriano (Yankees, 1999) and Steve Finley (Dodgers, 2004) as the only players in major league history to hit a home run that clinched their team’s postseason berth, according to Elias Sports Bureau. … Cincinnati’s Laynce Nix, plagued by a sprained left ankle, had two hits in his first start since Aug. 23 in left field.