CINCINNATI -- The 2013 National League Central champion has yet to be decided with three games left in the regular season. Unfortunately for the Reds, they know they won't be walking away with the title.
Combined with a Cardinals win, the Reds were eliminated from the division race with a 1-0 loss to the Mets on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park. The loss marked Cincinnati's second in a row at a time when the club could ill afford any setbacks if it hoped to win the NL Central.
One day after missed opportunities cost the Reds in a 4-2 loss, they struggled to even put themselves in position to score in the series finale. Cincinnati barely threatened Mets starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, advancing a runner past second just one time the entire game. The Reds notched only four hits, while drawing three walks and a hit-by-pitch.
"We've just got to figure out a way to get that big hit, especially with two outs," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's so very important. Most of the time, whoever gets the most two-out hits wins. Going to the playoffs, there will be a number of these situations. We just have to remain confident and remain calm, and just believe you can do it."
The playoffs have been a certainty for the Reds since opening the series with a 3-2 win on Monday, but heading into Wednesday, Cincinnati still had its eyes on the pennant despite trailing St. Louis by three games with four to go.
Although an opponent and location are still to be determined in the final weekend of the regular season, the Reds now know for sure they're set to play in next Tuesday's NL Wild Card Game.
Going to the playoffs is nice, but the Reds wanted more.
"Go in that clubhouse and you'll see those guys are down," Baker said. "But they're not out. It's OK to be down. Like my dad always told me, 'It's OK to be down, just don't stay down.'"
On Wednesday, Cincinnati's offense never really got going, spoiling a stellar start from Mat Latos. The lack of run support was nothing new for Latos, as the Reds have scored a combined four runs in his last five losses, including two shutouts.
But the 25-year-old right-hander gave Cincinnati every chance to win on Wednesday.
Latos made it through the first two innings surrendering just a single to second baseman Daniel Murphy. However, he started the third by hitting Wilfredo Tovar, who advanced to second on a sac bunt by Matsuzaka. Tovar raced to third after catcher Devin Mesoraco couldn't handle a Latos pitch in the dirt.
With the infield playing in to prevent the run, Mets leadoff hitter Eric Young snuck a single between first baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips, scoring Tovar and giving New York a 1-0 lead.
"Those kind of things happen," Latos said. "Early in the game, I felt like I didn't have as good of command as I did down the stretch the last couple of innings."
Latos loaded the bases again in the fourth, but he was able to escape by striking out Matsuzaka to end the inning.
From there, Latos cruised, working through a clean fifth on 11 pitches before striking out the side in the sixth. He gave up a hit off the glove of Votto in the seventh, but quickly induced a groundout to end his final inning.
Latos allowed just four hits and two walks, one of which was intentional. He hit two batters, but also struck out seven. Instead of dwelling on the negatives, Latos tried to focus on the positives Wednesday, pointing out that he made every start in a relatively healthy season and set a career high with 210 2/3 innings pitched.
With his regular season finished, Latos will likely take the mound for the NL Wild Card Game against either St. Louis or Pittsburgh, and he'll hope to build off Wednesday's start.
"Whenever I do get the ball again, I'll be ready to go, ready to compete," Latos said. "Good news is I felt strong, velocity was up. I had good command of the curveball today. I'll just take it into the next start and hopefully push us further into the playoffs."
As good as Latos was on Wednesday, Matsuzaka was just a bit better. In 7 2/3 innings, the Mets right-hander also gave up four hits, including three singles, while walking two and striking out six.
"This is a very good lineup and a small ballpark. I just focused on trying to limit the amount of extra-base hits they got off me," Matsuzaka said. "It was really a good opportunity to pitch against a team like this and see how I can pitch, and how well I can pitch against them."
Derrick Robinson became the only Reds player to reach third base in the eighth when he led off with a pinch-hit single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and eventually to third on a wild pitch. With two outs and Shin-Soo Choo standing on second, Votto had a chance to tie the game or give the Reds the lead. Instead, facing reliever Pedro Feliciano, he flew out to center to end the inning and the Reds' last real threat.
In the three-game series against New York, Cincinnati managed just five runs. The Reds will hope to have whatever problems they experienced this week figured out in time for this weekend's series against the Pirates, who hold a one-game lead in the battle for home-field advantage for the NL Wild Card Game.
"It's very important," Baker said of playing at home. "But ... you've got to play the game. This team seems to take the hard road most of the time. We were at them today, but we just couldn't get that hit."
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.