For the first time in 61 years, the Cincinnati Reds have been shut out on Opening Day.
Running into ace Adam Wainwright was the wrong potion for a club that was looking to hit the ground running after the way their season ended last year. Opening up against the class of the National League Central was a barometer to see where the Reds could stack up in what should be a crowded, highly competitive division.
After multiple bludgeoning’s last season, Wainwright returned to him true form this afternoon in front of the second biggest crowd to ever attend a regular season game at Great American Ball Park.
He was matched step-for-step by the Reds own ace, Johnny Cueto. Outside of one fastball that decided it didn’t want to cooperate with the San Pedro de Macoris native, Cueto was every bit as stout as his counterpart. In fact, up to that point, the only two hits Cueto had allowed were balls shot the opposite way by slugging first baseman Mat Adams, who faced no infielder on that side of the field due to his pronounced shift.
Mowing down eight batters in his seven innings of work, Cueto was the hard luck loser on the day. Fright initially paralyzed those in attendance after the first batter of the game, Matt Carpenter, ripped a line drive up the middle that was knocked down only by the left wrist of Cueto. Injuries have already affected the Reds roster so severely that another loss to a member of the pitching staff might have been catastrophic. More than anything, it seems the line drive woke the fiery Dominican up.
Playing the role of arch nemesis for the day was the heavily polarized Yadier Molina. A well-known first pitch fastball hitter jumped all over a Johnny Cueto fastball that didn’t move much and deposited it over the left-field scoreboard into a sea of red. Molina’s first hit of the year served as the sole sour wind in the sails of the Reds.
On a normal day, the one run Cueto allowed would have sufficed to get him at the very least a no decision. On this day, Adam Wainwright was stifling. Just ask Billy Hamilton, who in his debut as the full-time centerfielder went o-for-4 with four strikeouts against the tall Georgian. Thankfully, Billy the Kid won’t have to face such stiff competition for the remaining 161 contests. (Although, things get no easier the next two games against Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn.)
The offense was virtually a two-man army on this day—a facet many fans are downright concerned of. In order for this offense to maximize its full potential, contributions are going to be necessary from everyone in the order 1-8. Only three hits were collected on the entire afternoon, two of which came from Todd Frazier, and the other from Brandon Phillips. The two men also combined for three additional walks, to create a multitude of chances for an offense that scuffled against one of the league’s premier arms.
Initially, it seemed the bottom half of the fifth would be the time the Reds were going to breakthrough and put their first run on the board. Brayan Pena sprayed a ball to the left centerfield gap that speedster Peter Bourjos did run down, but neglected to squeeze his glove closed. As it bounded to the turf, Pena wound up at second to lead off the inning with one of the league’s best bunting pitchers making his way to the plate. To reinforce the notion that not much went right for the Reds on this day, Cueto’s bunt was a one-hopper right back to Wainwright who could have nearly walked over himself and tagged out the flat-footed Pena. An inning of promise slowly evaporated after two more strikeouts from the Cardinal ace.
Fortunes seemed to be swung in the Reds favor as more Great American Ball Park magic was thought to be on display in the bottom of the eighth. Joey Votto, who has never had a particular adeptness at figuring out Wainwright, may have been thrilled to see anyone but the right-hander on the hill. Unfortunately, for him, it was the flamethrowing Kevin Siegrist who took over, and after getting jammed on the hands, it seemed a rally-killing double play was imminent. In a game of inches, one may have made all the difference as the ball scooted under the glove of second baseman Kolten Wong into centerfield putting runners at the corners with nobody out.
Watching Jay Bruce stroll to the plate, the worst-case scenario seemed to be the Reds only getting one run across and tying the game. After a battle with Siegrist, Bruce hit a slow tapper to first baseman Mat Adams and inexplicably, Brandon Phillips was in no man’s land. His attempt at a rundown proved modest at best, and the energy in the ballpark seemed to be let out like a balloon.
Now facing Carlos Martinez and his electric stuff, Ryan Ludwick got the bottom half of a slider and tapped into what appeared to be the second easy double play of the inning. As Wong went to Peralta, and Peralta went to Adams, the ball popped out of the massive first baseman’s grasp in a comical display that resembled a tee-ball game.
One last chance was given to Todd Frazier to go for his third hit of the contest and bail out a stadium that was hanging on every pitch, but three pitches later the inning was over.
Trevor Rosenthal made quick work of the bottom of the order in the ninth and the club had fallen to 0-1 without so much as scoring a run.
Maybe the only thing more difficult than having to wait six months for Reds baseball is having to wait another day after watching the first game. The team gets a break on Tuesday before their first night game on Wednesday, against these very same Cardinals. Tony Cingrani gets the ball against the potent Cardinals lineup, while the sensational Michael Wacha toes the rubber for the Redbirds. Two young guns go at it 7:10 PM on Wednesday evening.