CINCINNATI -- For those who predicted an inside-the-park home run, a shutout of the fifth-best team in baseball and another homer from a pitcher batting .122 on the year, go collect the winnings.
It may not have been the exact gameplan the Reds had drawn up, but they'll certainly take it.
Cincinnati rode a superb showing from starting pitcher Mat Latos both on the mound and at the plate to steal the series opener from Pittsburgh, 3-0, in front of a sellout crowd of 40,829 at Great American Ball Park on Friday night.
"That was Latos' night tonight, pitching and hitting," said Reds manager Dusty Baker.
The Pirates entered the series able to pull within a half-game of the Reds with a sweep, but Friday night's win gave Cincinnati a 4 1/2-game lead over the National League Central rivals, and secures at least a 2 1/2-game lead when the series concludes Sunday.
The Reds trailed the Pirates by one game entering the All-Star break, after leading for a majority of the first half of the season.
Since the break, the Reds have won 18 of 21, while the Pirates have gone 12-8, allowing Cincinnati to slowly build a lead in the division.
Reds fans knew the significance of the series and came out in droves, marking the 10th sellout crowd of the season and bringing the "10th man" factor for Latos in a playoff-like atmosphere.
"What are we, the first week of August? That was unbelievable," Latos said. "They were so loud and so into the game. I don't think they understand they have a big, big part in games like this, to have a sellout crowd and have them go absolutely nuts. Everybody is feeding off that energy coming out of the crowd. The fans have to understand that if they do what they just did, we're going to win a lot of ballgames."
Friday's game may have been billed as a "Marty Party," honoring Hall of Fame Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman's 70th birthday last week and his head-shaving event for charity postgame, but it was Latos' time to shine.
Latos (10-3, 3.94 ERA) showed his dominance on the mound early, holding the Pirates hitless through three innings before Andrew McCutchen finally laced a single up the middle in the fourth.
Just three Pirates made it into scoring position all night, as Latos tossed 7 1/3 innings, allowing just four scattered hits.
"We've seen him pretty good twice," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "So I don't know where that four-plus ERA comes from. He's effective with the fastball, has good breaking stuff."
Latos was finally pulled in the eighth after two singles threatened the shutout. Newly acquired reliever Jonathan Broxton came on and immediately forced a huge double play, ending the threat.
"[Pitching coach Bryan] Price came out there and asked how I was doing," Latos said. "He said, 'We've got a fresh arm in the bullpen, so let's go ahead and bring that fresh arm in.' [Broxton] got a ground ball, we turned a double play and got out of the inning."
Aroldis Chapman then entered in the ninth and earned his 24th save, but not without some drama. With two outs, Chapman drilled McCutchen with a 101-mph pitch before striking out Garrett Jones to end it.
McCutchen and the Pirates' dugout were visibly upset by the plunking, but McCutchen planned to channel any lingering displeasure into a revved-up performance on Saturday.
"It just pumped us up," McCutchen said. "And that's the feeling we're going to take on the field [Saturday]."
With Latos dominating on the mound all night, the Reds wouldn't need much run support.
They held a 1-0 lead early in the game after a rare feat, when outfielder Chris Heisey knocked an inside-the-park home run off Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez.
Heisey sent a shot off the top of the wall in left-center field, just missing Starling Marte's leaping efforts and ricocheting back into the field.
Third-base coach Mark Berry waved Heisey home, and he was called safe after a sliding play at the plate.
"When I hit it, I thought it had a chance to get out of here," Heisey said. "As soon as I got about halfway to second base, I saw it rolling along the track and I didn't see anybody near the ball. I was going as fast as I could, but you try to give it a little extra just because you know you have a chance. Thank God I made it home before I fell over because my legs were dying."
Baker opted to start Heisey in right field in place of Jay Bruce, who is just 2-for-29 off Rodriguez in his career. It's safe to say his decision paid off.
It was the second inside-the-park home run in Heisey's career, the first also coming against Pittsburgh on Aug. 2, 2010, off Joel Hanrahan.
It was Heisey's fourth homer of the season, and the second inside-the-parker by a Red this year. Bruce accomplished the task June 15, in New York off Dillon Gee.
The Reds wouldn't need any more offense, but Latos decided to help his own cause in the fifth, driving a two-run home run that squeaked above the left-field wall.
"Just swing hard in case you hit it. That's the best I got," Latos said. "I'm a pitcher, I don't get paid to hit. It's just one of those things, I happened to put a good swing on a pitch, and it left the yard."
Latos' home run was his first of the season and the third of his career, and it brought the game to the eventual 3-0 final score.
Saturday night's game in Cincinnati is already sold out.
"I love playing in this place when it's packed," said Heisey, who joked after the game that he still hadn't caught his breath from his trip around the bases.
Mark Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.