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Freel's effort, injury are Reds' inspiration

As Adam Dowdy makes the call, Norris Hopper checks on Reds teammate Ryan Freel, who was hurt when the outfielders collided. (DAVID KOHL/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

CINCINNATI -- Center fielder Ryan Freel had to leave yesterday's game after a frightening outfield collision, but he still played a big part in the Cincinnati Reds' 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Freel was taken off the field on a stretcher after colliding with teammate Norris Hopper. Tests came back normal, and his hard-nosed hustle inspired his teammates to turn in several sparkling defensive plays that helped help Kyle Lohse throw a six-hit shutout, which snapped the team's six-game skid as well as Lohse's personal six-game losing streak.

"That's what we need -- pitching and defense," said catcher David Ross, who hit a two-run home run and blocked the plate to tag Humberto Cota and complete a double play that ended Pittsburgh's last scoring threat in the eighth inning.

"I think Freel's play was kind of a turning point for us."

Freel left in the third after running into right fielder Hopper while catching Cota's fly ball on the warning track. Freel was spun around and landed near the base of the wall. The game was delayed 13 minutes while Reds trainers and doctor looked at him before he was strapped onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance to be taken to a local hospital.

"He just goes out there and plays hard every play," Lohse said. "It's fun to watch, but it's scary."

The Reds announced in the fourth that Freel, who's known for his all-out play, had feeling in all of his extremities and was coherent. CT scans were normal and he was diagnosed with a contusion to the head and neck. He will be re-evaluated today.

Lohse (2-6) got past the fifth for the first time in his last four starts. He struck out two with no walks.

"The defense picked me up today," Lohse said. "When they do that, it gives you the confidence to keep pounding the strike zone."

Pittsburgh starter Ian Snell, who fell to 4-4 despite seven strong innings, acknowledged that Freel's play changed the game.

"It seemed like their defense stepped up when Freel caught the ball -- but I still don't think he caught it," Snell said.