PITTSBURGH (AP) - Charlie Morton is just so-so against every team in the league not named the Cincinnati Reds. Against the Reds, he's spectacular.
The right-hander continued his mastery of the Reds on Monday night, pitching five innings to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 2-0 win.
Morton improved to 8-5 overall - including 3-0 against Cincinnati - after wiggling out of a first-inning jam as the Pirates moved into first-place in the crowded NL Central.
``We haven't scored a run off the guy this year!' Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said.
It only seems that way.
Morton has limited the Reds to one run in 23 innings, including none on a muggy night at PNC Park that seemed to stifle the life out of Cincinnati's bats.
The Reds managed just three hits against four pitchers and didn't get a runner to third base over the final eight innings.
``It's hard to win when you don't score,' Baker said. ``They know how to pitch us, evidently, because we've had as much trouble against them as anybody, so we just have got to make better adjustments and realize what they're doing to us.'
The defending division champions hoped two wins against St. Louis over the weekend would give them a much-needed boost. Instead they let a solid performance by pitcher Dontrelle Willis slip away.
Willis gave up two runs in 4 2-3 innings, throwing 51 of 69 pitches for strikes.
``I felt good mechanically, first time in a long time mechanically,' Willis said. ``But Morton, he pitched a great game. It was one of those games where a base hit here could have decided it, and it was just one of those things where we were on the other side of the fence today.'
Willis' only hiccup came in the fourth as the Pirates scratched across two runs in what is becoming very Pirate-like fashion.
Chase d'Arnaud and Neil Walker led off the fourth with singles. Andrew McCutchen brought d'Arnaud home with an RBI groundout and Walker soon followed on Matt Diaz's sacrifice fly.
That was more than enough for Morton and Pittsburgh's steady bullpen as the Pirates improved to 6-1 against the Reds this year. Morton is just 5-5 with a 4.56 ERA against teams other than the Reds this season.
``The Pirates have had our number all year, man,' Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips said. ``I don't know what it is, but I'll tell you one thing: They're a good team, they're for real.'
Morton included, though he needed a little bit of help from Mother Nature to get out of the first inning.
The start of the game was delayed 55 minutes by rain, but the sky briefly cleared, giving Morton just enough time to get in trouble.
He hit Drew Stubbs to lead off the game and Zack Cozart followed with a sharp single to put runners on the corners. An intentional walk to Jay Bruce with two outs loaded the bases.
Morton jumped ahead of Miguel Cairo 1-2 when a massive thunderclap shook the stadium and lit up the downtown Pittsburgh skyline. Umpire Tony Randazzo ordered the teams off the field and gave Morton a much-needed breather.
Cairo worked the count to 2-2 when play resumed but was robbed by d'Arnaud, who dived into the hole to field a grounder then flipped the ball with his glove to Walker at second base to force out Bruce.
``I've only done that play two other times in my life,' d'Arnaud said.
Neither mattered more than his gem on Monday.
``I wanted to make contact with the ball and I put the ball in play and the shortstop made a great play and they got out of the inning,' said Cairo, who stranded five runners on base.
It would be as close to home plate as the Reds would get on a night the Pirates moved into first-place by themselves.
Joel Hanrahan worked a perfect ninth for his 27th save as Pittsburgh moved a half-game in front of Milwaukee.
NOTES: Walker's single in the first inning extended his hitting streak to 12 games ... Cincinnati third baseman Scott Rolen was given the day off by Baker, who was concerned about Rolen's sore right shoulder, which has been operated on three times. Rolen is expected to return to the lineup Tuesday. ... Pittsburgh could take shortstop Ronny Cedeno off the DL by Friday. Cedeno went on the seven-day DL on earlier this month with concussion-like symptoms. ... d'Arnaud left the game in the fifth inning with stiffness in his neck after sliding hard into third base in the fourth.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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