Pittsburgh Pirates' Jung Ho Kang (27) celebrates with Josh Bell (55) after hitting a two-run home run off Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Robert Stephenson during the third inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene
Gene J. Puskar
September 10, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) Joey Votto is having one special finish to the season. So good even he isn't sure it can continue for much longer.

Votto celebrated his 33rd birthday with four hits, including a home run, and the Cincinnati Reds beat the collapsing Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 on Saturday night.

Votto led off the ninth inning with his 23rd homer, a drive to right off Juan Nicasio that gave the Reds a two-run cushion. The 2010 NL MVP is hitting .427 in 51 games since the All-Star break and could become the first major leaguer to hit .400 in the second half since Ichiro Suzuki had a .429 average in 2004 with the Seattle Mariners.

''It's pretty unlikely,'' Votto said. ''We'll see. Just mathematically, it's very unlikely to hit .400 for such a long period.''

Reds manager Bryan Price, who was the Mariners' pitching coach in 2004, believes Votto can follow in Ichiro's footsteps.

''Joey is such a great hitter,'' Price said. ''He can hit the ball out of the ballpark, hit the ball all over the field and has such great plate discipline that he gets on base at a .430 clip. It's special when you see this kind of production over this period of time.''

The Pirates' flickering hopes of a fourth consecutive postseason berth took another hit as they dropped 5 1/2 games back of St. Louis for the second NL wild card with their 10th loss in 12 games.

When asked if he would call a meeting in an effort to spark his team, manager Clint Hurdle gave a terse answer.

''The one thing I do is when I talk to guys, I don't tell you I talk to them,'' he said.

Francisco Cervelli hit a two-out RBI single in the ninth for Pittsburgh, but Tony Cingrani held on for his 17th save. With runners on first and second, Jordy Mercer bounced into a fielder's choice for the final out.

Brandon Phillips had three of Cincinnati's 15 hits, helping the Reds rally from an early 4-0 deficit for their second straight win following nine losses in 11 games. Tucker Barnhart drove in three runs.

Phillips is hitting .365 (19 for 52) with four homers and 10 RBIs in 14 games against the Pirates this season.

The Reds jumped in front with three runs in the fifth against rookie reliever Trevor Williams (1-1). Scott Schebler had a bases-loaded walk before Barnhart made it 7-4 with a two-run double.

Jung Ho Kang's two-run homer off rookie starter Robert Stephenson gave the Pirates a 4-0 lead in the third inning. Kang finished with two hits and three RBIs.

Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison left in the sixth inning after injuring his right groin while legging out a two-run double that got the Pirates within one at 7-6. He is 17 for 42 (.405) with six doubles during a 10-game hit streak.

Josh Smith (3-1) got the win despite allowing two runs in 2 1/3 innings.

Stephenson threw 43 pitches during a two-run first inning and made it through just three innings, getting tagged for four runs and five hits.

Acquired in an Aug. 1 trade with Toronto and assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis, Drew Hutchison gave up four runs and eight hits in four innings in his Pirates debut.

''I liked the way guys pushed through,'' Price said. ''We're down 4-0. We're struggling to win games. We have to take a struggling starter out after three innings. Then here come the Reds with four runs to tie it, three runs to take the lead then the bullpen bent a little but got the job done.''


Pirates: LF Starling Marte (back spasms) sat out for a fifth straight game and there is no timetable for his return.


Pirates right-hander Chad Kuhl will return to the rotation Thursday night and start at Philadelphia. The rookie was originally supposed to start Saturday but the Pirates decided to give him a break after working 134 1/3 innings between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis this season.


Reds: LHP Brandon Finnegan (8-10, 4.17 ERA) will start Sunday in the finale of the four-game series. He is winless in his last three starts despite a 3.00 ERA in that span.

Pirates: RHP Ryan Vogelsong (3-4, 4.07 ERA) has allowed a combined 10 runs in nine innings in his last two starts while going 0-1.

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