Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

An Old Foe Sinks the Cincinnati Reds at Fenway

Still in search of their win at Fenway Park since 1975, the Cincinnati Reds fell in 12 innings to the Boston Red Sox by a final of 4-3. 

In a hotly contested game, both teams had ample opportunities to secure the victory in the opening game of a quick two-matchup set.  He who laughs last, laughs the loudest, and the Red Sox were certainly laughing as they showered Grady Sizemore with praise after his walk-off double.

It was back in February when it seemed certain that Sizemore would be inking a deal that would make him a Cincinnati Red.  As extra insurance to the Billy Hamilton plan, Sizemore would have been a role player at best.  Jumping at the opportunity for more playing time with the reigning World Series Champions (plus, more money); Sizemore took his talents back to the American League he has been accustomed to. 

Facing Sizemore for the first time not being a member of the Indians, he crushed Reds pitching anyway, going 3-for-6 with two runs driven in—the latter of which was a game-winner that banged off the base of the Green Monster.

As is normally the case with most extra-inning games that stretch into the wee hours of the night, the contest was decided by what was done in the early portion. 

Homer Bailey was moderately effective.  Emphasis on the moderately portion of that sentence.  From the onset, he walked Dustin Pedroia to lead off the game—a tantalizing ominous occurrence.  The first rant of the evening comes from a play just three batters into Bailey’s outing.

On a slow tapper to Todd Frazier, the shifted Reds defense turned a seemingly difficult double play, with Zack Cozart receiving the ball on the near side of the bag to the third base side.  Upon taking a gander at replay, it was obvious that Cozart did not make contact with the bag in time (if he even made contact at all) to force out Shane Victorino, then flip on over to first.  Fair enough, that is how baseball should be played.

But, the rule book reads differently.  Or, more like, the “unwritten” rule book.  It is affectionately known as the “neighborhood play” and it has been a thorn in the side of baseball since Edd Roush roamed the outfield for the Reds with pterodactyls swooping down from the sky.  The logic behind the play is to save the legs of middle infielders, who have to avoid oncoming base runners barreling into them. 

Then again, is that not what every young player is taught?  To take out the middle infielder that is covering the bag during a double play?  The fact that a rule is in place that allows a player to record an out on a force play without making contact with the bag is asinine.  On top of that, it is “unreviewable,” whatever that is supposed to mean.  Because, why in this era of modern technology and slow motion, should we be doing our best to get each and every call right?

After the Red Sox got on the board in the bottom of the first, the Reds answered back quickly with Skip Schumaker driving in his first run for the franchise.  With runners at first and third, it seemed more would follow.  Alas, Zack Cozart popped up, Neftali Soto grounded out weakly and Tucker Barnhart flew out, ending the threat in a dead heat.

Pitching himself into, and not quite out of trouble, was Bailey in the third.  Walking the Red Sox light-hitting ninth place hitter in Jackie Bradley Jr. proved problematic after a walk to Mike Napoli forced a run in, and Grady Sizemore added on.  Bowing his neck, Bailey kept the deficit at 3-1 for the remainder of his time on the hill.

Only twice on Tuesday night did Bailey retire the Red Sox in order.  He did retire the final six batters he faced, but while his collective line of six innings and three runs may technically be a “quality start,” it was not of the quality Reds fans have become used to with Bailey. 

In opposition, Felix Doubront was just a tad bit luckier than Bailey.  The two had similar evenings, but Doubront avoided the walks, a tipping point in the contest.  (Until he walked two men in his final inning when he was relieved; neither of which scored.)

Trailing 3-1 heading to the top of the eighth, the Reds knew if they were going to come back, it would have to be right then and there with the top of the order going up against Red Sox set-up man Junichi Tazawa, opposed to lights out closer Koji Uehara.

The two men that will have to step up most in terms of production in Jay Bruce’s absence—Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick—both drove in runs to knot the game up at three in the eighth, at the very least extending the game. 

As was established during 2013, scoring against Koji Uehara is not something one accomplishes with any amount of ease. 

With that being said, the Reds had a golden opportunity when first baseman Mike Napoli fell asleep when fielding Zack Cozart’s swinging bunt, allowing the leadoff man to reach.  After Billy Hamilton moved him over with a sacrifice bunt, young Tucker Barnhart strolled to the plate.   

In 29 other ballparks, Tucker Barnhart would have been the hero of tonight’s game.  Annihilating a fastball from Uehara, Barnhart hit the ball as well as his frame can allow him to hit one.  Off the bat, it evoked a groan from the Red Sox faithful as the ball looked as if it were shot out of a cannon.  Wobbly camped directly in front of the 380’ sign in right field was Shane Victorino, who hauled in the drive to the astonishment of Barnhart, who could not believe the ball did not leave the park. 

Opportunity was still knocking.  With a runner at third and two outs, Chris Heisey, Jay Bruce’s replacement for the next month, came up with a chance to cement his status as reserve extraordinaire. 

Per normal of a Heisey at bat, he peeks out of the corner of his eye down at the third baseman to check on his position.  Seemingly liking what he saw, Heisey dropped down the bunt. 

Television color commentator Chris Welsh swore that if Cozart had come home on the play, he would have been tagged out.  Had he broken immediately at the moment of contact, it certainly would have been close.  Yet, down at third sat Cozart as Heisey beat out the infield single without so much as a throw. 

There are $240 million reasons fans clamored for Votto to bring Cozart home against the American League’s premier closer.  To the chagrin of fans all over Reds Country, the at bat ended in a “P-5.” (Pop out to the third baseman, for those of you who do not keep score at home)

Pitching himself into a major incident, Sam LeCure escaped the bottom of the ninth without a scratch.  Then, he was lights out for the tenth. 

Unfortunately, for the Reds, the Boston bullpen was just as stealthy.  Not scoring on either Andrew Miller or Craig Breslow in extras proved problematic, giving the Red Sox too many chances to score.

Giving credit where credit is due; Bryan Price managed the bullpen to a tee on Tuesday night.  Except…the decision that mattered the most. 

By every stretch of the imagination, Price has proven himself an “outside the box” thinker.  He has moved Joey Votto up in the batting order, begun to wreak havoc on the basepaths, jettisoned the sacrifice bunt for the most part; yet, he cannot get over the hump that every manager seems to get caught on. 

Jonathan Broxton has not yet allowed a run in 2014.  By definition, he is the Reds best reliever.  By role, he is the Reds best reliever, considering he is the team’s closer.  Yet, as David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Grady Sizemore (3-4-5 in the Red Sox order) came up in the bottom of the 12th, the perpetually shaky Logan Ondrusek was sent back out to the wolves.

After back-to-back singles from Ortiz and Napoli, Sizemore put Ondrusek out of his misery with a walk-off double to the left centerfield gap.  Sitting in the Reds bullpen was the man with a 0.00 ERA.

This concept of having to have someone “close” the game is ridiculous.  Sure, it has been a part of baseball for the past 20 years, but ask Casey Stengel or Connie Mack what they thought about not using their best reliever in the game’s crucial moments.  “Saving” a closer for a save situation that may never come, ranks at the top of the list in managerial moves that deserve the highest amount of criticism.

It became glaringly apparent as the game dragged on, that Sean Marshall was not available.  Opportunities came and went where the tall lefty would have ideally fit the situation, yet did not even get up to stretch.  Reds fans can only assume the worst when combining Marshall’s illustrious history of injuries and the current tornado tearing through the locker room.

The loss stings, but lost in the madness is the fact that Tuesday night featured a fantastic ballgame.  No team likes to lose, but the Reds competed, as they do every night.  They came within just a foot of completing the comeback, but will have to attempt to settle for a split tomorrow evening.

Heading to the hill for the 7:10 p.m. start will be Mike Leake.  On the opposite side, the Red Sox send out Jake Peavy, who while not his former self, is still a dynamic pitcher. 

With another off day on the horizon, expect the Reds to empty the cart in order to pick up a win.  Unless of course, a potential “save” presents itself.

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