Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Reds Bring the Lumber, Win Series Opener


Winning the opener of a crucial four-game series against their division rival, the Cincinnati Reds exploded for five runs in the eighth to edge the Milwaukee Brewers, 8-3. 

Clearly not destined to pitch with the lead, Homer Bailey nearly gave the contest away.  Of course, Bailey has just been at the mercy of some extremely bad luck thus far in 2014 when pitching ahead, but he escaped with his second win of the year on the night where he featured his most effective stuff of the season.

The game began with a sensational diving grab from Billy Hamilton, which came off the bat of Carlos Gomez.  Not only would Gomez go on to get his revenge later, but also, Hamilton would leave the contest with a few bruised knuckles and may miss the rest of the weekend. 

Hard hits balls began to soar all over the green grass as the second inning got underway.  Three straight singles from Khris Davis, Mark Reynolds and Jean Segura, only ceased after the sacrifice bunt of the pitcher and the not-so-graceful diving stab by a sliding Ryan Ludwick. 

Over the next five innings, it was the Homer Bailey show.  Only allowing a hit and a walk, Bailey kept the Brewers to the lone run on the board.

History does in fact repeat itself.  Just ask Joey Votto.  Going over the centerfield wall to bring back what would have been his fifth home run of the season, Carlos Gomez had a bit of pep in his step as he showed off the ball back to the infield.  Votto threw his hands up half in protest, half in admiration. 

Marco Estrada began to make things look quite easy up until the fifth inning.  In a moment Tucker Barnhart will never soon forget, he connected on a 1-1 changeup and watched as it soared just above the Brewers bullpen (and their hideous mustard brown bullpen jackets).  Any person who has ever laced up cleats and stepped on dirt has imagined what their first big league home run would feel like, and Barnhart experienced arguably the greatest moment of his life up to this point on Thursday night.

There was another window of opportunity in the fifth after back-to-back walks to Chris Heisey and Joey Votto.  Swiping his fourth bag of the year, Heisey made it so there was a runner on third with less than two outs for the heavily slumping Brandon Phillips.  Phillips has always been susceptible to the double play, which is exactly what he bounced into to end the threat in the fifth.

As frustrated as some get at Todd Frazier’s constant off balance swings, Thursday night is the equivalent of a basketball game when a coach yells, “No, no, no!” yet the shooters shoots anyway, and it’s nothing but net.  Which of course emits, “Yes! Good shot!”  Frazier, fooled by an off-speed offering from Estrada, still managed to power it out just above the left field wall to push the Reds ahead 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth.  With the way Homer Bailey was cruising, victory seemed in tow.

How Rickie Weeks, 13-for-26 entering the game against Homer Bailey in his career, did not get the start, speaks volumes about either: A.) how adamant they are about Scooter Gennett being the everyday second baseman, or B.) how rough it has been to watch Rickie Weeks play.  Coming off the bench to extend the seventh inning, Weeks hit a lined smash off the foot of Bailey, raising his average up over .500 against one of the league’s premier pitchers.

Carlos Gomez showed yet again, why he has replaced Yadier Molina as public enemy number one in Cincinnati, when he laced a first pitch fastball from Bailey for a game tying, two-out, two-RBI double.  Bailey, presented with the lead, gave it away once again.

Rather than crumble, Bailey bowed his neck and retired the next four hitters he would face.  Through eight innings, he allowed three runs, eight hits, but struck out four and walked only one.  Purely from a stuff perspective, it was the best start Bailey has had all year. 

Coming into the game, the Brewers had the league’s best bullpen, at least in terms of ERA.  Like anyone actually believed that would last.  There are no new, fancy weapons featured down in Milwaukee’s pen; but rather the same retreaded guys who just so happened to put together a dominant month.  Had it occurred in June, nary an eyebrow would have gone askew.

Unable to get the job done in the seventh with the bases loaded and less than two outs, the Reds made up for that and some more in the eighth.  After a leadoff single from Zack Cozart, he moved over on a sacrifice bunt from Tucker Barnhart.  The mighty Brayan Pena played the role of hero as he hammered a Jim Henderson offering off the top of the wall and over, to give the Reds a 5-3 lead. 

It appeared a chance for insurance runs would slip through the Reds grasp once again after Brandon Phillips struck out, but Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick were having none of that.

Frazier drew a bases loaded walk from new reliever Rob Wooten, followed by a two-run single off the bat of Ludwick, to push the Reds ahead 8-3.  In total, 11 batters would hit in the inning with five of them crossing the plate, extracting a measure of personal revenge from just a night ago.

In the ninth, Jonathan Broxton was as calm and collected as ever (it’s amazing how much less than the nerves are worn down when Broxton pitches with a five run lead) as he mowed through the Brewers for a 1-2-3 ninth. 

Big picture, this game may just have been another win for the Reds.  In the short term, it sends a statement.  The health of Ryan Braun for the remainder of the series is unknown, but what is certain, is the Brewers current stranglehold on the Central.  While there is a lot to like about the Brewers chances in 2014, the calendar still only reads May.

After using the hard-throwing Homer Bailey (who topped out at 97 MPH) on Thursday, the Reds will send the crafty Mike Leake to the mound for the 7:10 start Friday night.  His opponent will be Wily Peralta, a potential ace should he ever find the area code in which the plate is located.  Both men have had their share of both excellent and poor starts against the opposing team. 

With the Brewers two aces (Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse) pitching the concluding two games, Friday becomes an awful nice time to pick up a victory.

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