BALTIMORE — It didn't matter to Buck Showalter that the Baltimore Orioles couldn't hold a six-run lead against a stumbling team that's already looking toward next year.
All Showalter cared about was that the Orioles found a way to beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-7 Thursday night.
"A 'W' for Baltimore? That's the way I draw them up," the manager said. "They don't have to be aesthetically pleasing. At this stage, I'm not looking for pretty, I'm looking for 'W.' I thought it was beautiful. I thought it was real pretty."
After completing a 9-2 homestand against Tampa Bay, Minnesota and the Reds, the AL East-leading Orioles (82-57) maintained their 9 1/2-game lead and are assured a third straight winning season for the first time since 1992-94.
Baltimore has 23 games left, all against AL East foes.
"The homestand, that was huge for us," said J.J. Hardy, who delivered a tiebreaking two-run single in the seventh inning. "I think we had a chance to sweep every series. To take this one tonight was big, and now we've got all in division. It gets bigger."
Nelson Cruz hit his major league-leading 37th home run in a six-run first inning, but the Reds chipped away and finally pulled even with a four-run seventh.
Nick Markakis led off the bottom half with a single off Manny Parra (0-2), and Hardy put Baltimore back in front with a bases-loaded single on a 3-1 pitch from Sam LeCure.
Tommy Hunter (3-2) worked 1 1-3 innings and Zach Britton got three outs for his 33rd save.
"There's a real will there to be satisfied with two out of three (after) they fought their way back, but our guys pushed back," Showalter said. "We've being doing that a lot this year, pushing back."
After watching the Reds get beat 6-0 on Wednesday — their 15th loss in 21 games — Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said he was going to "see what we have in our system."
His starting lineup contained five September call-ups and first baseman Jack Hannahan, who has no RBIs in 17 games this season.
"It would have been nice to hold on to win but I was proud of the way the guys came back," Pryce said. "You get tired of sucking silver linings out of losses, but it was definitely some fun and entertaining things to watch."
Devin Mesoraco went 4 for 4, hit his 21st home run and had four RBIs. But the Reds dropped to 66-74, the first time they've been eight games under .500 since Oct. 2, 2009.
Mesoraco doubled in two runs in the seventh to complete Cincinnati's comeback, but it wasn't good enough.
"Anytime you go back and forth with a team it shows the fight in you and that you aren't giving up," said leadoff hitter Jason Bourgeois, one of the call-ups. "A lot of positives we can take from tonight."
Cruz homered with a man on and newcomer Kelly Johnson doubled in a run before Nick Hundley capped the first-inning uprising against Mike Leake with a three-run shot.
Jonathan Schoop connected in the fourth to make it 7-2. The rookie has homered in three straight games.
Leake yielded a career high-tying seven runs on seven hits in four innings. The three home runs he allowed also matched a career high.
Orioles starter Chris Tillman gave up five hits over six innings. He left with Baltimore up 7-3.
Reds: RHP Homer Bailey will have surgery on his elbow Friday to repair a torn tendon. Bailey, who's on the 60-day DL, expects to be fully recovered by the start of spring training.
Orioles: 1B Steve Pearce, who has not played since Aug. 29 because of a strained abdominal muscle, hopes to return Saturday against Tampa Bay. Also, reliever Andrew Miller is day-to-day with a tender hamstring.
Reds: Alfredo Simon, who's 1-6 in the second half, takes the mound Friday night for the opener of a series against the visiting New York Mets.
Orioles: Wei-Yin Chen (14-4) starts for the fifth time this season against Tampa Bay to launch a three-game series Friday night.