PITTSBURGH -- The Cincinnati Reds insisted they didn't have a big letdown after being eliminated from the NL Central race a few hours earlier. Losing to a pitcher with only one previous career victory suggested otherwise.
Marty McLeary, a journeyman minor leaguer most of his career, pitched seven shutout innings in only his second major league start and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Reds 3-0 Saturday night to end an eight-game losing streak.
The Reds were mathematically eliminated from the NL Central race earlier in the day when the Cardinals beat the Brewers. Cincinnati also lost any chance for second place when the Astros beat Atlanta 5-4 Saturday night.
Cincinnati had won five of six and seven of 10 to make an unexpected late-season run for the division title.
"We were a little flat after St. Louis won, but we just did not hit," manager Jerry Narron said. "But no excuses, McLeary threw well."
Pirates infielder Freddy Sanchez went 0-for-4 to trim his lead in the NL batting race against Florida's Miguel Cabrera to three points -- .343 to .340. Cabrera went 1-for-4 Saturday against Philadelphia. The season ends Sunday, and manager Jim Tracy said Sanchez will play.
"We'll monitor the at-bats going on here and in Florida, but I know Freddy and he is not interested in backing into anything," Tracy said. "He's going to play, and if he gets a hit he forces the other guy to get three or four hits."
The Pirates have had 24 batting champions, the most in the NL, but haven't had one since Bill Madlock won in 1983. Sanchez also needs two hits Sunday to join Jack Wilson (2004) as the only Pirates players to get 200 hits in a season since Dave Parker had 215 in 1978.
McLeary (2-0) had pitched in only four previous major league games, with San Diego in 2004, before being called up by the Pirates late last month, yet had pitched effectively in both of his starts with an 0.75 ERA. He gave up four hits and one run in five innings Sunday during a 2-1 loss to San Diego.
The 31-year-old McLeary didn't allow a runner past second base and worked out of his biggest jam by getting David Ross to ground out with runners on first and second and two outs in the fourth.
"I've worked hard this season and it's paid off," he said. "I've never had it in my mind that I was done or was too old. I'm going to go out there until my arm falls off."
Matt Capps, who leads major league rookies with 84 appearances, followed McLeary by pitching a scoreless eighth that was interrupted by a 14-minute rain delay. Salomon Torres finished up with a perfect ninth for his 11th save in 14 opportunities.
By winning, the Pirates (66-95) gave themselves a chance to avoid losing more games than the 95 they lost last season -- a record that led to manager Lloyd McClendon's firing in early September.
The Reds (80-81) must win Sunday to dodge a sixth consecutive losing season. Regardless of that outcome, they are assured of having their best record since going 85-77 in 2000 and will finish in third place in the division.
"We were still hoping to play for second place," Bronson Arroyo said. "It was definitely a little bit of a letdown (being eliminated), and obviously losing was even more of a letdown."
The Pirates were long since assured of their 14th consecutive losing season, two short of the Phillies' major league record. But a victory Sunday would give them a winning record after the All-Star break for the first time since they last they won a division title, in 1992. They also lead the Cubs by one game as they try not to finish last in the division.
Arroyo (14-11) took over the major league lead in innings pitched with 240 2/3 by throwing seven innings, but took the loss -- his second in six decisions this month. No Reds pitcher has led the NL outright in innings pitched since Bucky Walters in 1941. Jack Billingham tied in 1973.
The Pirates took the lead on Ronny Paulino's one-out RBI double in the second. They stretched it to 3-0 when Jason Bay and Xavier Nady singled and Ryan Doumit was hit with a pitch ahead of Jose Bautista's two-run single in the sixth.
- Paulino has a .311 average and could become the first rookie catcher since Mike Piazza in 1993 to hit at least .310 and play at least 100 games.
- Arroyo, cut by the Pirates three years ago, has won 28 games the last two seasons with the Red Sox and Reds.
- The Pirates are 36-35 since the break and 42-38 at home, and are assured of their first winning season at PNC Park since the ballpark opened in 2001.