In the unlikeliest of outcomes, the Cincinnati Reds rallied late to top the Pittsburgh Pirates by a final of 6-5.
Tenacity and grit are two words that have not an earthly definitive explanation, but it is tough to imagine a better example of both descriptions than the Reds’ Friday night victory.
A silent ballpark resounded deafening noise. As the crowd stood and stretched as “Cincinnati, O-H-I-O” blared out of the speakers, the scoreboard read 5-1 Pittsburgh. Pirates’ starter Jeff Locke left nothing to chance, allowing just a single base hit since the middle of the third inning. Pittsburgh was firmly in control.
In order to comeback in baseball, you first must trail. Being a comeback victor certainly does not come without its stressful instances, but that is what makes the taste of victory so sweet. In a broader context, the next time the city of Cincinnati hoists the World Series trophy, it will be equivalent of sipping from the Holy Grail for all the tribulations the team has gone through over the past two decades.
Inserted back into the two hole in the batting order, Zack Cozart sparked the offense early. After Billy Hamilton’s ridiculous display of athleticism in which he juked Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez, Cozart would clobber a run-scoring double down the line which allowed Hamilton to show off his jets. Within two minutes of batting, the Reds had already scored. It would be their last run for the next two hours.
If nothing else, the 2014 version of the Cincinnati Reds will redefine what it means to be unlucky. Twinges and aches and pains come to all teams, it is not necessarily something that athletes can always control. When Mat Latos came up limping halfway through the third inning, something was clearly amiss.
Grabbing at a lame back and stretching is one thing. Having Pedro Alvarez hit a ball so far that it disappears from camera view is another. Things unraveled quickly in the fourth after reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen homered to the opposite field to knot the game up. Jay Bruce would boot a ball at first, followed by a walk, and then Latos fell behind Alvarez in the count 2-0. Moments before he would wind and fire, Fox Sports Ohio broadcaster Thom Brennaman ominously announced, “This is a big pitch here.” Just as his words hung in the air, Alvarez swung and for as far as Latos was concerned, the ball turned into dust it was hit so hard, and so far.
After five innings, Latos would head for the showers. He was listed as having to be removed for precautionary reasons due to back spasms, which can be logically attributed to his rather rough arrival at first base to end the second inning.
Magical as the game can be, baseball has her subtle hidden quirks that make her irresistible. Who could have known that by Pedro Alvarez chucking away an easy groundball to start the bottom of the seventh, that he would slowly begin the unraveling for Pittsburgh on Friday night? As if he were trying to drill the camera operator standing in the well behind first base, Alvarez airmailed a throw that began the inning on a sour note.
Optimistic fans immediately felt a rally coming on. Then, it was realized the bottom of the order was coming up. Have no fear, Ramon Santiago is here.
Hitting the ball as far as his frame could possibly allow; Santiago slammed a run-scoring double off the wall in left field. Slowly but surely, Cincinnati was chipping away. A Donald Lutz seeing-eye single into right field was followed by a Billy Hamilton run-scoring groundout. If you cannot take down the whole lead, take half–which is exactly what the Reds did.
After the Curtis Partch experience was on full display in the eighth inning (walk the bases loaded, and then strikeout everyone in sight with a 99 MPH fastball), All-Star Tony Watson came on for Pittsburgh in the bottom half of the frame.
Both Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce would make extremely solid contact, but two nice plays were made by Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen, respectively, to track them down. Those would be the only outs Watson would record.
Clearly missing the memo that Devin Mesoraco obliterates any fastball on the inner third of the plate, Watson did not even need to turn around to know that the Reds had indeed cut the lead in half once again. With a one-run deficit, and just four outs remaining, it was going to have to be that pesky bottom of the order again.
Because extra-base hits are way too trendy for the Reds, they figured they could single Watson to death. First, it was Ryan Ludwick. And then, Chris Heisey. With Ludwick standing at second as the tying-run, under normal circumstances, there would have been a pinch-runner sent out. Due to the Reds’ three-man bench heading into the night, ol’ Luddy was running for himself. He had his burners on after the new big man on campus, Ramon Santiago, brought him home with a base hit back into centerfield, which tied the game and sent Great American Ball Park into a frenzy.
Pinch-hitter Brayan Pena strode to the plate and there was almost no conceivable way in which he was not bringing in the go-ahead run. Slapping an opposite field base hit over the outstretched arm of second baseman Neil Walker, Pena went ballistic as he reached first base, nearly taking off first base coach Billy Hatcher’s arm with a high-five. To quote Pena’s walk-up music, “Turn down for what?”
Bryan Price was not turning down for anything, not with a potential series-opening win against the Pirates on the line. Going to Aroldis Chapman for the fourth straight day, he seemed to be pretty effective. Nary a ball would be put into play as Chapman struck out the side, ending it on a 103 MPH fastball that pinch-hitter Doug Hague may, or may not, have even seen.
With the strikeouts, Chapman broke the all-time record for a relief pitcher of consecutive appearances with at least one K. Now sitting at 40, Chapman passed Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter and his mark of 39 set in 1977.
A state of euphoria glazed over the ballpark as fireworks went off into the night above the field where they just witnessed one of baseball’s best teams grind out a victory.
After having not come back from a four-run deficit the entire season prior to July 8, the team has now done it twice in the span of four days. Incredible things are happening in Cincinnati.
The Redlegs look to secure a series win at 7:15 p.m. tomorrow night as Mike Leake gets the ball opposite of Charlie Morton. Both teams are familiar with the other’s starter, so logically, the game should come down to execution and timely hitting. With just two games remaining prior to the All-Star break, the anticipation will be at fever pitch in front of the sold-out crowd on Saturday.