Sep 18, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton (6) slides safely into second base during the ninth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Hamilton Speeds Reds Past Astros, 6-5, in 13

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Five hours and eighteen minutes later, Aroldis Chapman polished off a victory that was anything but pretty for the Redlegs, but it kept them moving forward in their fight towards the division crown.

In a game that was played longer than any other by this club this season, there were so many high and low moments that it is almost impossible to quantify the see-saw of emotions from first pitch on.

The Reds jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first on the back of a frozen rope from Jay Bruce for his 101st RBI of the season and then tacked on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Ludwick.  After Billy Hamilton doubled for his first major-league hit in the top of the 2nd, Shin-Soo Choo promptly followed up with a basehit into right that scored the lightning quick Hamilton without so much as a thought of a throw.

Before things went right again for the Redlegs, the wheels fell off for Greg Reynolds, in what will be his last start of the season, as he lasted only three and two-thirds innings before being bailed out by hard-throwing Logan Ondrusek.  The Big O held tight until turning the ball over to the rejuvenated Manny Parra, who uncharacteristically gave up back-to-back doubles to the Astros number seven and eight place hitters, tying the game back up at four a piece.  At the conclusion of six innings, the Reds simply had to be one run better than the Astros for the final three innings and beyond; it was just unclear that beyond would lead to what it did.

The top of the 9th inning could have been the tipping point in the season for the worse as Billy Hamilton got on-base for the fourth consecutive time and almost without thought, stole second base for the third consecutive time.  After that, Shin-Soo Choo drew a walk and the Redlegs were in business as Josh Fields of the Astros was yet to throw a strike in the inning with the heart of one of the best lineups in baseball in front of him.  After watching a ninth straight ball sore nowhere near the limits of home plate, Brandon Phillips bunted the next pitch down the first base line for what would could be described as a “beautiful sacrifice,” where Phillips gave himself up to move the runners over to second and third for Joey Votto.  For the second consecutive night, DatDudeBP pulled off a boneheaded play by running on the grass of the infield blocking the throwing lane to first base, causing the ball to bounce off his back.  Initially, the bench uproared in jubilation, but soon Phillips was called out and both runners were sent back to their respective bases.

Now with Joey Votto, one of the most selective and patient hitters in the game stepping to the plate, you could almost feel the big hit coming in the air.  As Fields wound and fired, Hamilton got an absolutely massive jump off second base and would have stolen third standing up, had it not been for Joey Votto hacking at the first pitch of a guy who had proven he had no earthly idea what zip code the plate was in.  Hamilton eventually found his way to third on the tag up, but you could feel the momentum sucked out of the bats.  After walking Jay Bruce to face Ryan Ludwick with the bases cranked, Fields fell behind 3-0 to the usually impatient Ludwick.  The old theory seemed applicable at this moment in time: “he’ll throw you four balls, before he throws you three strikes.”  Try out that method did Ludwick, as he watched three straight fastballs soar past him over the plate to end a rally in the 9th and absolutely stun the Redlegs.

The bottom of the frame certainly had no rest for the weary as the struggling Astros pitched together a rally that was all but neutralized by the sensational grab of Jay Bruce who caught a ball that not many outside of himself and maybe, Yasiel Puig, could have even gotten to.  The masterful ways of Zach Duke once again left the bases juiced and all runners stranded as the game grudgingly moved to extras.

Skipping to the bottom of the 11th where doom seemed all but certain for the club from the Queen City when Trevor Crowe laced an outside fastball into left field and maybe at a park like Great American, the Astros are waving Brandon Barnes home from second with only one out in the inning.  Due to the Crawford boxes in left field that are seemingly just beyond the infield, the stop sign was thrown up for Barnes; luckily for the Reds, Jose Altuve, the trail runner, missed that very same stop sign.  The former all-star came chugging around second and right into the waiting rundown from Todd Frazier and Brandon Phillips that allowed the Reds to continue the game even later into the night.

They say history repeats itself; and the 13th inning was no exception to the rule, as Billy Hamilton reached base for the fifth time in the game (this was his first major-league start mind you) and on a pitch-out, swiped second base for his fourth steal of the game becoming the first player in Major League history since 1920 to have four stolen bases in their first career start; talk about making a splash landing.  The wizardry of Shin-Soo Choo wove its wand yet again, allowing him to walk down the first base line for the fourth time on the evening.  This time, rather than having Brandon Phillips sacrifice, the Astros pitchers obliged by throwing a ball in the dirt and leaving the Reds with runners at second and third, with nobody out.  Brandon capped off an absolutely miserable 0-7 day at the plate by grounding out to third and leaving the game in the hands of the Beaumont Bomber, after the intentional walk to Joey Votto.

The main case for an MVP candidate when a race is as close as it is in the National League this season is to point out the clutch moments that that player performs in when it matters most.  This argument is nearly half-hearted as I don’t truly believe Jay Bruce should be getting legitimate votes over Andrew McCutchen or even Clayton Kershaw for the award, but there is no hole in his candidacy.  Bruce yet again delivered in the clutch tonight in front of a crowd that was hollering “BRUUUUUUUUCE” after he smacked a go-ahead two-run double off the center field wall.  Jay plays right field just as well as anyone in baseball that is for certain; he is now second in the entire league in runs batted in; he leads the league in extra basehits; he has 30 homeruns; he has delivered walk-off homeruns, game-tying hits, go-ahead hits, thrown runners out on the bases, thrown runners out at home; there is nothing that Jay Bruce has not accomplished this season.  Why is his candidacy not legitimate?  Jay may not even be in the top three best position players on his own team with Choo, Votto and Phillips all having great seasons and careers.  The votes may not reflect it at the end of the season, but Jay Bruce has had one phenomenal year.

With smiling faces surrounding the dugout, many thought not much could go wrong with the newly calibrated “Cuban Missile,” Aroldis Chapman heading in to close out the 100-loss Astros.  After two walks, a groundout leading to a run, and a line shot off the bat of Matt Dominguez, Chris Carter stepped to the plate with his team trailing by a run, with the tying run out at second and the winning run over at first.  In his previous at-bats, Carter was pitched to as if he was a modern-day Albert Pujols in an attempt to avoid him launching a ball up onto the train tracks and sending the Reds home sulking.  Aroldis Chapman was having none of that.  After blowing 101 by him twice, the second time just getting a piece, the game’s best weapon unleashed a 103 MPH fastball that was almost untraceable before it was realized to have connected with the padding of Ryan Hanigan’s mitt, and thankfully for the Redlegs, not Chris Carter’s bat.

There were so many positives from tonight’s game that would make any fan of this club gush as if the club had actually clinched something this Wednesday evening/Thursday morning in Texas.  In his first career start, Billy Hamilton absolutely dominated a baseball game in a way that is almost unheard of in today’s era of baseball.  Personally, I find myself siding with the likes of Dusty in situations where it pertains to veteran players proving their worth in the playoffs, but it is certainly a tempting proposition to not only have Billy Hamilton in center and Shin-Soo Choo in left for games in the remainder of this season, but next year as well.

Alfredo Simon also deserves a mention of honor for his outstanding pitching tonight, regardless of the fact that he caught some breaks from the petty Astros.  In what was his longest outing of the season as far as pitch count was concerned, Simon went three innings of scoreless ball and perfectly bridged the gap to the flame throwing southpaw.

Earlier in the night, the “Shark Tank” out in Pittsburgh seemed to have sprung a leak as Mark Melancon blew a save to the feisty Padres of San Diego, allowing them to come back for a victory on the Bucs home turf.  While Todd Helton abused the Reds this season in head-to-head play, he couldn’t help them out tonight in the bottom of the ninth as he wiffed with the bases juiced against Eduard Mujica out in Denver.  The Reds keep the pace with the Redbirds, staying within two and a half games of the division, but with the loss out in Pittsburgh, the Reds are now just half a game behind the Pirates for the first wild card slot.

The off-day tomorrow is certainly going to be much needed after tonight’s marathon and the rest will be vital as this weekend in Pittsburgh is going to play host to the most significant series the Reds will have played in up to this point.  Mat Latos locks horns with Francisco Liriano at 7:05 ET on Friday night and time will tell whether the Reds and Bucs are separated by a game, or simply tied, as there are only nine games remaining in the Redlegs 2013 regular season.

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