It was a grueling day down at Great American Ball Park, and the 12-inning defeat at the hands of the Chicago Cubs did not do much to heighten the mood of the Cincinnati Reds.
As the game was sent to extra innings, news came across the wire that Gold Glove second baseman Brandon Phillips would have surgery on Friday to operate on a torn thumb ligament in his left hand. The procedure will sideline him from anywhere from 8-12 weeks, placing his return at the middle of the pennant race, or long after its conclusion.
The first pitch of the game was nearly a solo home run for Chris Coghlan, but centerfield Chris Heisey made a leaping grab as he banged into the wall to take away sure extra bases. It was recorded as an out in the scorebook, but it would serve as an omen of perilous things to come.
Young Kyle Hendricks came into his Major League debut on Thursday with some pub around his name. The 2013 pitcher of the year in the Cubs organization, Hendricks’ journey finally culminated with a big league start. His first inning of work could not have gone less according to plan.
Promptly walking Chris Heisey and Skip Schumaker to lead off the game, Brayan Pena, Ryan Ludwick and Ramon Santiago would all have run-scoring hits before the inning would conclude. Every member of the order batted, welcoming Hendricks to the show.
Then, Hendricks turned it up a gear. Opposed to wallowing in self-pity, Hendricks would allow only two hits over his next five innings. He would be denied a quality start due to the fact that one of the hits was a solo blast from Ryan Ludwick, but he would eventually strike out seven—including the side in his final inning of work.
Hendricks was not the only rookie who shone in the five-game series’ epic conclusion. Although it was just his second big league game, Arismendy Alcantara looked to be the best player on the diamond. Going 4-for-5 with three runs driven in and two scored, Alcantara was the catalyst to nearly every Cubs rally down the stretch.
After driving in a run on a sacrifice fly in the third, Alcantara would clear the bases in the fifth for a two-run double that cut the Reds lead down to 4-3. Homer Bailey would escape that inning with the lead intact, but he could not go much longer.
Facing Starlin Castro to lead off the sixth, Bailey wound and fired like he had 71 times prior to that during the game, but before he could deliver the ball, he nearly fell over. Exiting the game almost immediately, it has been deemed a strained patella tendon for Bailey, which in common speak translates to “knee pain.” The injury bug seems to have taken another juicy bite out of the Redlegs on Thursday.
Even though Jonathan Broxton has been magnificent throughout 2014, he could not preserve the one-run lead in the eighth inning. Starlin Castro’s game-tying single came directly after first baseman Brayan Pena made a throwing error, knotting the game up at four, and forcing the Reds’ bats to get back to work.
The best chance Cincinnati had the remainder of the game would come in the eighth, and it should not have even occurred. With two outs and nobody on, Zack Cozart hit a tapper to second base where Alcantara made his only mistake of the day. The throw was low (but catchable) and Anthony Rizzo could not glove it, keeping the inning alive.
After a base hit from Tucker Barnhart, and an intentional walk to Devin Mesoraco following a wild pitch, Chris Heisey strode in with the bases loaded. Cubs’ reliever Pedro Strop would fall behind in the count 3-0 before peppering two fastballs over the plate, and then nearly snapping Heisey at the knees with a slider that got him out of harm ways.
If the intensity was not already ratcheted up for a tie game in the ninth inning, things got a whole lot more interesting once Aroldis Chapman took to the hill.
A simple fact about Aroldis Chapman: no batter likes to face him. He throws harder than any human on record in the history of baseball, and God forbid one of those pitches ever slips, he could legitimately put someone in a coma. While Nate Schierholtz was understandably not pleased about having two fastballs buzz by his ear in the ninth, but the last thing it was, was intentional.
Clearly, Anthony Rizzo missed the memo. On the verge of being swept in a five-game series and moving to 15 games below .500, the Cubs were certainly not in the cheeriest of moods. Yet their All-Star first baseman seemed to let the heat get to his head.
Coming out to the field in the ninth, Rizzo did one of the gutsiest things one could do in life—challenge Aroldis Chapman. Fortunately, for all involved, 6 foot, 6 inch Alfredo Simon stepped in the way before the two would slug it out, and after the benches cleared, order was restored with no ejections. With Rizzo and Chapman sharing the same dugout on Tuesday for the All-Star Game, it will be interesting to see how the two interact.
Not scoring over the game’s final nine innings was a hurdle too big for the Reds to climb. Luis Valbuena would have the game-winning hit on a two-run triple to right field that glanced off the glove of Schumaker, before he would be gunned down at the plate on a controversial call. Over the final four innings, Todd Frazier would be the only member of the club to get a base hit.
Winning four out of five is still a grand achievement, regardless of the outcome on Thursday. What serves as more of a blow is the announcement of Brandon Phillips being done for the majority of the season, and the uncertainty surrounding Homer Bailey.
On Friday night, the Reds will welcome in the Pittsburgh Pirates for a three-game set, their final before the All-Star Break. Mat Latos will get the ball for the Reds against Jeff Locke of the Pirates as the two are set to square off at 7:10 p.m.