In what has become a typical 2013 Cincinnati Reds victory, the club never made it look easy. After countless chances with runners on base all game, the Redlegs saved their best for last and finally pulled out a much needed victory against the scuffling Mets late Monday night to stay relevant in the race for the National League Central.
The second go-round for Aaron Harang on his welcome back tour to Cincinnati this season did not appear to be going the veteran right-handers way through the first two innings, as he walked three and gave up two runs, putting the Reds ahead early. As Cincinnati faithful are well aware of, Harang is also capable of putting up zeros. Through his next four innings of work, the Reds only went in order once and Harang finished with six walks, yet importantly, only the two runs.
Transitioning from the Reds old ace to their new ace in town, Johnny Cueto officially had his training wheels taken off. Although he worked at a significantly slower pace than normal, it was the results that mattered more to the Reds on this night. Outside of one fastball that rode just a bit too much over the center of the plate to Mets slugger Lucas Duda, Cueto was virtually unblemished. His usual strengths, his changeup and slider, were all kinds of magnificent, with both darting in and out of the strike zone, fooling the young Mets hitters. If there was any doubt about Cueto’s being on the Postseason roster, they have surely been squelched.
With a team as passionate and driven as this year’s model is, the close games in late innings have almost been embraced. “Sudden” Sam LeCure came on in the 8th and gave up back-to-back singles off the bats of Eric Young and Daniel Murphy to certainly cause a groan amongst fans, and man’s best friend, in the stands. After benefitting from what may be viewed as a high strike to punch out David Wright, the Reds saw shades of what the bullpen could have looked like all season with lefty neutralizer Sean Marshall coming in to get Lucas Duda to roll into the inning-ending double play.
After Aroldis Chapman made quick work of the back end of the Mets order in the 9th via his triple-digit gunslinger, the Reds seemed poised and content to play only the standard nine and send the paying crowd home happy. Shin-Soo Choo, who may very well be facing his next employer in this series, rocketed a double off Tim Byrdak, putting the Reds in prime position to end the game with the middle of the order due up. An incredible deke out of rookie Travis d’Arnaud a pitch later, Choo was standing on third, with still, nobody retired. The Reds boisterous second baseman tapped out to short, which led to yet another intentional walk for the league leader, Joey Votto. As Ryan Ludwick left his tenth batter on base of the evening with a pop up to second, fans began to boo as the Mets decided to walk Jay Bruce intenionally and go after Todd Frazier. A man who has had quite the flare for the dramatic so far this month with already one walk-off hit, Frazier could not get his humpback line drive to fall anywhere but into the mitt of Mets centerfielder Juan Lagares.
A rocky, but scoreless nonetheless, 10th inning was pitched by reliever extraordinaire Manny Parra. Submarine pitcher Greg Burke came on for New York in the bottom frame and after a 10-pitch at-bat from Zack Cozart, Devin Mesoraco ground out a similar at-bat to that of his Friday night in Pittsburgh, hitting the ball to nearly the identical spot, producing another infield hit. With the first baseman, Lucas Duda, drawn in, Derrick Robinson’s chopper trickled down the right field line, allowing Mesoraco to scamper over to third as the crowd bellowed out for “CHOOOO.” “Mr. Choo” as he is referred to by manager Dusty Baker, did not disappoint as he narrowly missed a game-winning homerun but still produced the walk-off single and was mobbed by his teammates out near second base, having delivered with his third walk-off hit of the season.
Those that believe that Joey Votto should be hitting more homeruns or at least, driving in more runs, must have been cringing this evening as Votto took a career-high five walks, not even registering one official at-bat. Had Votto been driven in at any point of the night, it may have seemed more significant but with his fourth and fifth hitters failing him, flack is drawn to the $240 million man who occupies the first base bag for the Reds.
The “Run, Billy, Run” phenomenon continued to grow, as Billy once again pinch-ran in the 8th and stole second on a pitch-out. Miraculously, he somehow managed not to score, but still captivated everyone in attendance as he has over the past few weeks. Ryan Ludwick’s struggles have been well documented, but rightfully so, he will get every opportunity possible to snap out of it, as Ludwick’s bat in the middle of the order can be a force in mid-to-late October.
Starling Marte of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivered a crucial, solo blast to win the game for the Buccos on the road in Wrigley. The Cardinals pitched a comeback of their own at home against the Nationals, which in effect, keeps the Reds two games behind the division pace and still deadlocked with the Pirates for home-field advantage of the wildcard game.
On the most important note of the night, with the Nationals loss, the Reds clinched a playoff berth. It may be a very small victory on a night like this where there is still so much more work to be done, but remember only 10 teams get a chance every year and the Reds were yet again one of the lucky few. For a team that hasn’t done a whole lot of winning in recent times outside a bracket of the last four years, fans everywhere should be thankful for the chance to play for the World Series crown.
Tuesday night in the Queen City features right-hander Mike Leake making what could possibly be his final start of the season against Mets lefty, Jonathan Niese, who with Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler shut down for the season, could be their best starter. The same status quo applies for the Reds tomorrow night as far as winning goes, as a sweep is basically imperative if the division is to be a possibility. Only five more regular season games remain here in 2013.