The Cincinnati Reds are headed back to the postseason, but that's not enough.
Cincinnati (90-67) has qualified for the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the "The Big Red Machine" won World Series titles in 1975 and 1976.
Shin-Soo Choo booked the latest trip Monday, when he hit a long drive off the top of the wall in left-center to drive in Devin Mesoraco and clinch a 3-2, 10-inning win over New York.
"We're excited, obviously," shortstop Zack Cozart said. "That's not our goal. We're in the division hunt. We're not happy with a wild card."
The Reds and Pittsburgh have at least a wild-card berth, but both trail division-leading St. Louis by two games with five to play.
Giving the ball to Leake (14-6, 3.21 ERA) should give Cincinnati a strong chance to potentially close that gap, while the Cardinals host Washington.
Leake has been utterly dominant of late, winning three straight starts behind a 0.84 ERA.
He's thrown a career-high 20 1-3 scoreless innings over that stretch, becoming the ninth Reds starter to reach at least 20 since 1974 and first since Mat Latos went 21 innings from April 19-May 5.
Leake is also trying to win a career-high fourth straight start, and he hasn't put together a longer single-season winning streak since beginning his career 5-0 over his first 11 starts of 2010.
He was superb again last Tuesday, scattering five hits in eight innings of a 10-0 win at Houston. Despite that dominance, manager Dusty Baker didn't want to overextend Leake, who threw 105 pitches.
"He possibly could have gone the distance, but we thought about it," Baker told the team's official website. "It's not often you get to throw a complete-game shutout, but we had to look at the big picture."
Leake's most recent complete game came at home against the Mets (71-85) on Aug. 15, 2012, when he pitched a four-hitter in a 6-1 win.
He beat them again May 21, yielding three hits in seven innings of a 4-0 road victory.
Leake's success against New York is partly why the Reds have a 1.88 ERA while winning nine of the past 10 meetings.
Joey Votto is a career .359 hitter versus the Mets, collecting 13 homers, 28 RBIs and 28 runs in 36 games.
New York wanted no part of the four-time All-Star, walking Votto a career-high five times - including once with the bases loaded.
The Mets will turn to Jonathon Niese (7-8, 3.81), who is 4-2 with a 3.06 ERA over eight starts since returning from a partially torn rotator cuff. The left-hander has yielded two runs or fewer in five of them.
He allowed two runs over seven innings Thursday, but the offense mustered four hits in a 2-1 loss to San Francisco.
Niese is on schedule to start the Mets' season finale versus Milwaukee on Sunday, and he'd like to finish strong and healthy.
"If I finish the season healthy, coming into spring training next year will be a good feeling," Niese told the team's official website. "I had a rough patch there where I had some rotator cuff problems, but rehabbing got that behind me and it feels fresh now."
Niese is 1-3 with a 4.55 ERA in five lifetime starts versus the Reds, going 1-0 while allowing nine runs in 11 innings over two road meetings.
|New York Mets|
|September 19, 2013||Ruben Tejada||Day-to-Day||Broken right fibula - out for season|
|September 17, 2013||Travis d'Arnaud||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right shoulder|
|September 14, 2013||Frank Francisco||Day-to-Day||Thumb contusion|
|September 10, 2013||Justin Turner||Day-to-Day||Strained right hamstring|
|September 09, 2013||Scott Rice||60-Day DL||Sports hernia|
|September 02, 2013||Ike Davis||60-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|September 05, 2013||Brandon Phillips||Day-to-Day||Quadriceps|
|September 05, 2013||Devin Mesoraco||Day-to-Day||Hamstring|
|August 22, 2013||Jonathan Broxton||60-Day DL||Flexor mass strain, right forearm|
|August 21, 2013||Tony Cingrani||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|August 21, 2013||Tony Cingrani||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|August 21, 2013||Jonathan Broxton||Day-to-Day||Left game - elbow|
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Mike Leake had one of those nights that happen to pitchers every so often. Bad timing for this one.
And now, the Cincinnati Reds face long odds against a second straight NL Central title.
Daniel Murphy hit a three-run homer off Leake, whose long streak of scoreless innings got shattered early, and the New York Mets beat Cincinnati 4-2 on Tuesday night, a costly setback to the Reds' hopes of another division title.
The Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates clinched playoff spots on Monday night, but hoped to chase down the first-place St. Louis Cardinals with closing surges. Leake's one very bad inning made that much less likely for the Reds.
Cincinnati fell a daunting three games behind St. Louis, which beat Washington 2-0 on Tuesday night. If they can't catch up, they are headed for the wild card playoff game next Tuesday.
"We'll forget about this one," manager Dusty Baker said. "Four games to go."
Leake (14-7) gave up four runs and eight hits in only 1 2-3 innings, matching the shortest start of his career. Wilfredo Tovar ended his scoreless innings streak at 21 2-3 with an RBI single, and Murphy's homer gave left-hander Jon Niese (8-8) the big lead.
"That happens," Leake said. "There was one pitch that blew it open for them. They just got me."
Niese kept lefties Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in check again, holding them to a combined 0 for 6 with four strikeouts. Niese allowed two runs and eight hits in seven innings. Vic Black faced three batters in the ninth, getting his first career save on his second try.
Eric Young Jr. had a single and a double, scored a run and stole his 42nd base for the Mets, who have won eight of 12.
It was a stunning outing for Leake, who has been the Reds' most effective starter lately. The right-hander allowed a total of two runs while winning his last three starts and getting his career-high 14th win.
Will the one bad start weigh in Cincinnati's decision about its postseason pitching staff?
"We aren't even thinking about that yet," Baker said. "Everybody's capable of a bad start. This is the first one in a long time for him.
"He didn't have his good control. He threw some balls over the heart of the plate and up."
Leake gave up two singles in the first inning before escaping. Mike Baxter led off the second with a double and scored on Tovar's single.
The right-hander got an assist when Bruce threw Tovar out at the plate as he tried to score from second base on Niese's single to right field, but it wasn't enough. Murphy's three-run homer on the 10th pitch of his at-bat made it 4-0 with two outs. When David Wright followed with a single - the Mets' eighth hit - Baker made the change.
Leake didn't look at his start as a final chance to make a bid for the postseason pitching staff. He was left off last year, but replaced the injured Johnny Cueto during Cincinnati's first-round series loss to San Francisco.
"Naw, I wasn't fighting for anything," Leake said. "They're going to decide whatever they decide. It's not a competition for anything."
Niese also got off to a rough start, giving up singles to Shin-Soo Choo and Brandon Phillips on his first two pitches of the game. He got out of that threat with the help of center fielder Juan Lagares , who nailed Choo at the plate as he tried to score on Ryan Ludwick 's single.
Todd Frazier doubled in the second and came around on two groundouts.
Choo tripled - Lagares charged the ball and missed it - and scored when Votto grounded into a double play in the fifth, cutting it to 4-2. Votto is 2 for 15 in his career against Niese with seven strikeouts. Bruce is 2 for 13 with six strikeouts.
NOTES: Murphy's 13 homers are a career high. ... Young has 26 steals in the second half of the season, most in the majors. ... Leake also lasted 1 2-3 innings on July 30 last season against San Diego. ... Leake's scoreless streak was the longest by a Reds starter since Tom Browning threw 23 straight scoreless innings in 1990, when the Reds won the World Series. ... Baker said the Reds haven't decided how RHP Johnny Cueto fits into their postseason rotation and whether rookie Billy Hamilton will be on the playoff roster. ... The series concludes with a day game on Wednesday. RHP Mat Latos (14-6) starts for Cincinnati against RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (2-3).
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