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Associated Press
Cincinnati’s Joey Votto hits a solo home run off Tampa Bay’s David Price in the ninth inning Friday in Cincinnati.

Close games still problem for Reds

– Johnny Cueto didn’t feel ready to start the game. By the time he got into a rhythm, he was headed for another oh-so-close loss.

David Price took a shutout into the ninth inning Friday night before giving up a homer to Joey Votto, and the Tampa Bay Rays wound up holding on for a 2-1 victory over the Reds, their first in Cincinnati.

The teams have a brief and lopsided interleague history. The Reds had won eight of their nine previous games, with Tampa Bay’s only win coming at Tropicana Field on June 28, 2011, on Evan Longoria’s game-ending homer.

Longoria singled home a run in the first inning and Matt Joyce connected in the third against Cueto (0-2) as the Rays finally got a victory in their second visit to Great American Ball Park. They also visited in 2005 and got swept while giving up 34 runs in three games.

The Reds fell to 2-4 in one-run games. They’re 0-2 in games decided by two runs.

“Unfortunately, we’ve wasted some good pitching,” manager Bryan Price said. “We’re playing outstanding defense, and we got another good start from Johnny. Unfortunately, he was matched up against a good pitcher.”

Price (2-0) allowed four hits and one walk, losing his shutout when Votto hit an opposite-field drive with one out. He left a pitch over the outside part of the plate, costing him a chance at his third career shutout.

“That stinks,” said Price, who threw 114 pitches. “I definitely wanted to finish that game.”

Grant Balfour relieved, got Ryan Ludwick on a called third strike, then walked the next two batters and threw a wild pitch that let them advance to second and third. He pitched around Devin Mesoraco, who has been hitting well since his return from the disabled list, and got pinch-hitter Brayan Pena to take a called third strike.

“He (Mesoraco) is hot right now, and I’m going to be smart,” said Balfour, who is 3 for 3 in save chances. “I played the odds and rolled the dice there.”

Despite the teams’ limited history, they have one close connection. Bryan Price pitched for Joe Maddon when the Rays’ manager ran the Double-A Midland Angels in the 1980s. Price joked before the game that they got to know each other during Maddon’s trips to the mound in the third and fourth innings to replace him.

No early exits in this one. Both starters hung in there against struggling offenses. Tampa Bay has scored a total of eight runs in its last five games. The Reds have scored only 28 runs overall, the second-fewest in the National League.

Both were wasteful again.

Cueto needed 26 pitches to get through the first inning, when he walked two with only one out. Longoria singled home a run, but that’s all the Rays could manage. Joyce led off the third inning with a homer to fight field.

“In the first inning, I didn’t feel like I was ready,” Cueto said. “I felt slow. I was a little down on myself. After that, everything clicked in and I was all right.”

Tampa Bay had chances for a lot more. The Rays stranded four runners in scoring position in the first five innings against Cueto, who gave up five hits and walked four over seven innings.

The Reds wasted leadoff doubles by Mesoraco in the third and Brandon Phillips in the fourth. Phillips had two of Cincinnati’s hits off Price.

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