Created on Tuesday, 24 September 2013 Written by JOE KAY, AP Baseball Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — No champagne. No curtain call in front of joyous fans. No celebrating at all, really. The Cincinnati Reds clinched a playoff spot with hardly any notice.
Cincinnati Reds' Shin-Soo Choo celebrates with Derrick Robinson (15) after Choo hit a single off New York Mets relief pitcher Sean Henn to drive in the winning run in the 10th inning of a baseball game, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati won 3-2. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
If anything, they were a little bummed out.
Shin-Soo Choo drove in the winning run with a single off the wall in the 10th inning, and the Reds secured their third playoff spot in four years shortly after beating the New York Mets 3-2 on Monday night.
They want a whole lot more than the wild card that's already in hand.
"We're excited, obviously," shortstop Zack Cozart said, looking over a clubhouse where the only visible celebration was the image of Pittsburgh Pirates spraying each other on television. "That's not our goal. We're in the division hunt. We're not happy with a wild card."
The Reds clinched theirs after Choo's drive smacked high off the wall in left-center field. Eight minutes later, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 4-3, clinching an NL wild card for Pittsburgh.
The Reds were pulling for first-place St. Louis to lose. Instead, the Cardinals retained their two-game lead over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the NL Central.
"I was pulling for the Nationals to win, get a step closer to the Cardinals," manager Dusty Baker said. "We've still got five games to go. A lot of baseball."
The Reds kept pace with St. Louis despite squandering plenty of chances to end it early. They wasted a chance in the ninth, when David Aardsma pitched out of a bases-loaded threat by retiring Todd Frazier on a fly out.
Greg Burke (0-3) gave up a one-out single to Devin Mesoraco in the 10th, and Derrick Robinson singled him to third. Choo followed with his third hit of the game, off left-hander Sean Henn, a drive high off the wall in left-center. Choo headed for the dugout after crossing first base.
Manny Parra (2-3) allowed one hit in the 10th.
It was a notable win for the Reds — their 90th of the season, the third time in the last four years that they have reached the mark under Baker. They haven't had so many 90-win seasons since the Big Red Machine of the 1970s.
Johnny Cueto made a second solid start since coming off the disabled list, an encouraging sign for Cincinnati's postseason plans. The right-hander has been sidelined three times by soreness near his shoulder.
He gave up two runs — one earned — on Lucas Duda's sacrifice fly and solo homer, which snapped an 0-for-17 slump. In two starts, Cueto has allowed eight hits and one earned run in 12 innings.
Cueto's 99-pitch outing was the most encouraging part of the night for the Reds, who could have their ace back for the playoffs.
"He was excellent," Baker said. "He's getting ready. Each time he goes out, he gets his endurance up."
The Reds got two runs in six innings off Aaron Harang, who made his third start for the Mets. Choo singled home a run in the second and Joey Votto got one of his career-high five walks with the bases loaded.
Harang is 3-0 in four career starts against the Reds, including a 4-2 victory with Seattle on July 5 at Great American Ball Park. The Mariners later released him with a 5-11 record.
The Reds sustained their hopes of another division title by winning another long game — they are 13-9 in extra innings.
Last September, Baker was in a Chicago hospital getting treated for an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke when the Reds clinched the NL Central title. They made a video of their spray-away celebration and wished for another when he returned.
It didn't happy. Cueto had to leave the opening game of the playoffs at San Francisco after only eight pitches because of a strained muscle in his right side. With their rotation in flux, the Reds lost the five-game series.
This season, the Reds have stayed in contention despite losing Cueto, setup relievers Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton, and cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick for most of the season. Ludwick tore cartilage in his right shoulder while sliding into a base on opening day and was out for more than three months.
They were six games out on Aug. 9, in danger of falling out of the division's three-team race. They regrouped and have taken the race down to the final week by winning 12 of their last 17.
NOTES: New York's David Wright had his hitting streak ended at eight games. ... Billy Hamilton got in as a pinch-runner in the eighth and stole second, leaving him 13 for 13 in attempts. The Mets called for a pitchout but Frank Francisco threw it over the plate. ... Votto has walked 132 times this season, tying Joe Morgan's club record from 1975. The five walks also tied a club record. ... RHP Mike Leake (14-6) starts for the Reds on Tuesday against LHP Jonathon Niese (7-8).
Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay