The veteran utilityman drove in the tying run and scored the go-ahead run to back Cueto's gritty pitching as the Reds wrapped up one of the best homestands in franchise history with a 2-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.
"You know Johnny's not going to give up many runs," said Valdez, acquired by Cincinnati from Philadelphia in an offseason trade. "You know you might only have to score a couple of runs."
Cueto (12-5) matched his single-season career high in wins and lowered his ERA to 2.23 to lead the Reds to their eighth victory on the 10-game homestand. It's only the fifth time in franchise history that Cincinnati posted at least eight wins on a home stand of 10 or fewer games. The last time was in 1975, when the Reds went 8-1 on a homestand.
First-place Cincinnati sandwiched three-game sweeps of NL Central Division-rivals St. Louis and Milwaukee around a split of a four-game series against Arizona and maintained its lead over Pittsburgh in the division. The Reds, who lead the Pirates by a half-game, are 5-2 since learning that All-Star first baseman Joey Votto needed arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Manager Dusty Baker would prefer a perfect homestand, but he'll take what he got from this one, which boosted the Reds a season-high 15 games over .500 (55-40).
"We got off to a great start with the sweep of St. Louis and got a great end with this sweep," said Baker, who savored sweeping division foes. "That's real big. You know you can pick up ground or lose ground."
Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke was chagrined about being swept in a series the fourth-place Brewers considered to be crucial for staying in the race.
"It's not a good time to lose three games to these guys," he said. "It was a disappointing weekend. This sure set us back. When you're behind three teams, it's hard to catch up."
Cueto (12-5) overcame a 30-pitch first inning, which ended with Milwaukee leaving the bases loaded, to complete seven while throwing 117 pitches. He gave up eight hits and one run with one walk. He tied his season high with nine strikeouts and capped his day by getting NL home run-leader Ryan Braun to fly out to center field with two outs and the potential tying run on third in the seventh inning.
"I felt really well," Cueto said through interpreter and assistant trainer Tomas Veras. "I was aggressive on every pitch. In the first inning, I threw a lot of pitches. I was trying to throw fewer pitches after that. I always want to go into the seventh or the eighth inning."
Neither team hit a home run, snapping the streak of consecutive games in which at least one homer was hit at Great American Ball Park at 74. It was the longest active streak in the majors.
The Reds capitalized on pitcher Mike Fiers' throwing error to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning. Chris Heisey singled with one out, stole second, and scored on Wilson Valdez's single to right-center field. Valdez went around to third on Fiers' errant pickoff attempt and scored on Brandon Phillips' sacrifice fly to center.
Valdez was going to third from the start, he said.
"I was going to take a chance," he said. "They have to have perfect execution. They have to get to the ball, they have to pick up the ball, they have to get into position to make the throw, and they have to throw the ball."
Fiers (3-4) lasted six innings, allowing five hits and two runs -- one earned -- with four strikeouts. He also hit a batter.
"It's frustrating," Fiers said. "You're trying hard to win. You get tired of losing. We didn't score a lot of runs, but I'm trying to keep Valdez close, and throw the ball away. I feel like we should still be playing."
The Reds are 26-13 against Milwaukee over the last two seasons and 17-6 against the Brewers in Cincinnati over the last three seasons. ... RHP Mat Latos, who allowed a career-high 10 hits in his last start against Houston on April 29, gets a chance to improve on that when he faces the Astros on Monday at Minute Maid Park in the first game of Cincinnati's seven-day, six-game road trip. ... LHP Randy Wolf is scheduled to start for Milwaukee in the opener of a three-game series at Philadelphia. Wolf's win in his last start on Tuesday against St. Louis was his first in 13 starts since April 30.