Cincinnati Reds Brandon Phillips avoids tag from San Francisco Giants Marco Scutaro in Game 1 of the NLDS. Photo Credit: US Presswire

Champions Rise From Adversity: A NLDS Story

I was mesmerized last night as the saga played out.  Before the opening pitch I read tweet after tweet counseling Cincinnati Reds fans to remain positive no matter what.  A few commented on the perceived bias on the part of the TBS announcing team.  Excitement and curiosity abounded:  Would Johnny Cueto return to midseason form?  Could Reds find success at the plate after languishing the month of September with a team batting average of .225?  Will Joey Votto‘s knees offer up enough power to allow him to drive the ball again?

I watched the game on the weird quad screen provided by MLB.tv where I could apply my undiagnosed attention deficit disorder to good use and attempt to comprehend the game from 4 angles while constantly centering the various cameras on the bases.  The MLB feed offered other oddities.  There were no graphics on the screen so unless you were paying close attention you did not know how many balls and strikes each batter had and how many outs were recorded in the inning.  Worse you could never even see the score of the game.  But to counteract these drawbacks you could see things happening on the field that went unnoticed by the announcers, the four angles provided a wonderful window into the game.

The game itself started in an exciting fashion.  Angel Pagan struck out as a result of his lack of emotional control and Cueto’s ability to use this fact to his advantage.  The third strike could have easily been called a ball but after a poor reaction by Pagan earlier in the at bat the umpire would never have given him the benefit of the doubt.  Then, of course, Johnny Cueto felt a twinge in his back and all of Reds Nation seemed to fall into a panic.  To be honest I felt a sense of calm come over me and I tweeted at 10:07 PM yesterday:

“Champions are built from adversity. They rise when the must.  #Reds now know the challenge, it is time to step up.”

The thing is, while this was an educated guess on my part, it really wasn’t much of a risk.  Remember when Joey Votto went down they strung together 10 wins in a row and ran away from the rest of the division never to be seen again?  For the first few months of the season, the entire lineup was more than content to sit back and allow Joey to do the heavy lifting.  He was in position to set a major league record for the most doubles in a season and leading the league in on base percentage as well.  He was in contention for the batting title also.  Then he went under the knife and suddenly each member of the Reds roster looked themselves in the mirror and knew they had to get out of their own way and just perform.  And they did.  They won ten in a row, then just continued to grow their lead.  When Votto returned in September and the race was basically over they rested a bit and while the pitching was still awesome to behold the hitting lacked conviction.  Now, 8 pitches into the first game of the postseason and the Reds lose the the ace of the staff, 19 game winner Johnny Cueto, to back spasms.  These spasms may only force him to start game 4 or 5 it is hoped but the truth is, no one knows.  At 10 minutes after 10 PM, all the rest of the players on the Reds roster knew was in order to avoid a calamity similar to 2010, we each need to step up.  Gone were the mental gymnastics it seems are a hallmark of this team, just as in July the game became simple.  See the ball, hit the ball.  Jay Bruce hit a double in his first at bat and was stranded.  Brandon Phillips followed a Drew Stubbs single by depositing a breaking ball up in the zone over the left center wall.  An inning later, Bruce launched his own home run into right center and suddenly the Reds had a 3-0 lead.  In the meantime, Sam LeCure was given the task of stalling for time until Mat Latos could enter the game and effortlessly recorded 4 outs then had to work a bit for the final out in his appearance leaving the bases loaded but with no harm done.  His work would be rewarded by the official scorekeeper with credit for the win.

Latos entered in the 3rd inning and he breezed through 3 innings then allowed Buster Posey to drive a ball just over the wall in left field.  Ryan Ludwick added the first of two defensive gems during the 6th inning snagging a tough line drive off of Brandon Belt‘s bat.  And then an inning later makes an awkward spinning catch robbing Marco Scutaro of extra bases.

Phillips had already driven in 2 on the home run but drove in another in the 9th but I wanted to draw attention to a few other plays.  He always amazes in the field but one of his best defensive plays of the year may have been his diving stop of an uncharacteristic errant throw by Scott Rolen that saved a base or even two.  In addition his interesting stop, drop and roll to avoid the tag following a Joey Votto groundout.

Finally after Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton both pitched magnificent innings Aroldis Chapman fought through a sub par outing that may have been a result of nerves or it may have been from rust but either way it was a struggle but in the end he struckout Buster Posey, the National League batting champion.

So now Game 2 is set to begin.  Wiley veteran Bronson Arroyo will attempt to again use smoke and mirrors to get to the 7th inning with a chance to win.  But remember, adversity does breed champions, who will step up tonight?

Follow me on Twitter @JohnHeitz

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Tags: Baseball Brandon Phillips Cincinnati Reds Jay Bruce Mat Latos National League Playoffs NLDS Sam LeCure San Francisco Giants

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