Scraping their way back to the .500 mark once again, the Cincinnati Reds clawed tooth and nail to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Friday night.
On the hill, it was the Johnny Cueto show. Earning his Major League leading 15th win of the season, Cueto went eight innings while allowing just six hits and two runs. A winner in his last seven consecutive starts, he has finally begun to reap the benefits of an offense that has done just enough behind him to keep him in line for a victory.
While it was Johnny Beisbol’s show to steal, the offensive hero was second baseman Kristopher Negron. Slotted into the second spot in the batting order behind Billy Hamilton and in front of Jay Bruce, the rookie took advantage of his opportunity by going 4-for-4, while also bringing in the game’s winning run in the top of the ninth with an RBI single.
At the start of the game, the Reds would encounter old teammates in Matt Belisle and Nick Masset, who would pitch the game’s opening five innings. The anticipated starter was Franklin Morales, whose wife went into labor shortly before the game began, forcing him to depart from the stadium in favor of his newborn child.
With it being a “bullpen game” for the Rockies, the Reds would figure to do some significant scoring—especially within the exceptionally friendly confines of Coors Field. Right off the bat, both Billy Hamilton and Negron would get hits, setting the table for the heart of the order. No runs would cross the plate in the first, leaving fans wondering if the offense had let their best opportunity slip by.
After Nolan Arenado would crank a solo shot in the bottom of the second to put Colorado ahead 1-0, the Redlegs would come right back with a run of their own in the top of the third. Sparked by Cueto’s leadoff single, the Reds would execute George Grande’s favorite line of “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in,” as Negron would sacrifice both Cueto and Hamilton over before Jay Bruce would bring home the first run of the game for Cincinnati on an RBI groundout.
The club went right back to scoring in the top of the fourth after Jack Hannahan, who was getting a spot start in place of an ailing Todd Frazier, ripped his first hit of the season, a double to the right centerfield gap. Not playing for small ball in that situation, Ramon Santiago took matters into his own hands and laced an RBI single past a diving D.J. LeMahieu to score Hannahan, and put the Reds up 2-1.
Normally, any time the offense can hand Johnny Cueto a lead, manager Bryan Price and his coaching staff has to feel optimistic about the outcome. A minor blip on the radar appeared in the bottom of the sixth, in the form of back-to-back base hits, the latter of which tied the game, a double from Corey Dickerson.
In order to set up the double play with just one out in the inning, Cueto would intentionally walk Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario. He would not yield another batter to reach base the remainder of the game.
Striking out Charlie Culberson and LeMahieu to escape the jam was just the beginning as Cueto would retire the last eight batters he would face. Had his spot in the batting order not come up (or the Reds taken the lead), he almost assuredly would have gone back out for the ninth inning.
Where there is smoke, there is fire–and where there is a rally, there is Ramon Santiago. Getting the ninth inning started with a base hit, Santiago would scamper over to second after a sacrifice bunt, which undoubtedly had fans cringing at the prospect of bunting in a late-game situation once again.
It would come down to Kristopher Negron with runners at first and second and two men out, having already gone 3-for-3 with a sacrifice bunt thus far in the game. Lacing a fastball from Adam Ottavino into centerfield, Santiago would score easily and former Red Drew Stubbs would have no play at the plate.
Losing Brandon Phillips has been a major decimation to this roster in more ways than can be explained, but his loss has helped to uncover the blossoming potential of the young Negron.
In the bottom of the ninth, Aroldis Chapman would see his 49 game consecutive streak with at least one strikeout recorded come to an end. He would receive some defensive help from first baseman Brayan Pena to end the game, as Pena snared a hot smash and then immediately dove to the bag for a double play, ending the game and bringing the Reds back to .500.
With Homer Bailey having been placed on the disabled list, Dylan Axelrod has been summoned from Triple-A Louisville to start on Saturday. Making his Cincinnati Reds debut, Axelrod will square off with Jordan Lyles of the Rockies for what will be an 8:10 p.m. start.