The ebb and flow of certain baseball games is captivating. Last night was just such a game. It was magical, frustrating, impossible, and beautiful. The 2011 season began amidst the hope of spring training. Things were not perfect as the campaign unfolded, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey were injured yet the Reds still started the season victorious. Then as April became May and May turned to June the season slipped away.
Last night neither the Reds nor the Mets had anything to play for except pride and their fans.
The game started innocently enough, a ground out, a walk, a force at second base bringing #32 to the plate. Facing a one ball, one strike count Jay Bruce matched the number on his uniform with the 32nd home run of his 2011 season and raising his RBI total to 97 on the year. In addition, the home run marked the 100th of his career.
The bottom of the inning saw Ruben Tejada reach base after being glanced by the ball with one out. He moved to second on a ground out to second and scored when David Wright singled making the score 2-1 Reds.
The Reds struck out swinging twice more in the third book-ending a double off the bat of Drew Stubbs. The bottom of the third brought the electrifying Jose Reyes to the plate. He deposited Bronson Arroyo‘s 2nd pitch into the right center bullpen for his 6th home run of the season helping him maintain his slight lead in the National League batting title race and knotting up the score at 2-2.
The 4th and 5th offered up more of the same for the Reds amassing 4 more strikeouts to lift the total to 9. The Reds had struck out twice 4 innings in a row. The bottom of the 5th brought Jose Reyes back to the plate and he continued his quest for the batting title by depositing an Arroyo slider off the facing of the second deck in right field. For the first time the Mets had the lead.
The sixth inning brought Joey Votto to the plate and he deposited the ball just over the left center wall tying the game again. It also marked the first inning where no strikeouts were recorded by the Reds. In the bottom of the inning, Nick Evans doubled and was singled home by Josh Thule. The lead was back to the Mets again.
The biggest surprise of the game may be that no more runs crossed the plate until the 9th inning. The 7th inning lasted a whole 11 pitches yet included a Paul Janish single and 3 more Reds Ks to raise the total for the game to 12. The 8th included Joey Votto‘s 2nd strikeout between singles by Stubbs and Bruce. Stubbs was then called out at third base after attempting to steal, video evidence showed that he was safe which could have changed the game but it was not to be. A little controversy is good for the game anyway. Jose Reyes struck again to end the eighth by snagging a sharply hit ground ball hit off Chris Heisey‘s bat. Marty Brennaman commented on the air that no other shortstop in the Major Leagues could have made the stop and I do not know enough about the range of players in the AL to say if that is true or not but I have seen a player in the Reds organization make such a play and he is Billy Hamilton, late with the Reds Class A affiliate Dayton Dragons. He may not yet be the consistent fielder Reyes is but I have witnessed his ability to make something out nothing based on pure speed and athletic ability.
The 9th offered more of the same; Frazier grounded out, rookie catcher Devin Mesoraco followed with a single, and pinch hitter Yonder Alonso struck out bringing. Edgar Renteria singled moving Mez to second where Dusty Baker replaced him on the bases for Dave Sappelt. Juan Francisco doubled Sappelt home to tie the game. Aroldis Chapman entered the game to pitch the bottom of the 9th, after recording the first two outs Jose Reyes stepped in and hit a soft grounder to Chapman who grabbed the ball and tossed it away allowing Reyes to speed around to second.
Now Aroldis Chapman is gifted with a monster fastball but with a man on base he is a different kind of pitcher. When throwing from the stretch he tends to become distracted and he has a hard time holding runners down. Jose Reyes is not just any runner and he easily stole 3rd at this point and nearly instigated a balk that would have scored the winning run. Ruben Tejada then walked after a nine pitch at bat where Chapman only threw fast balls. At his best he throws a disarming change-up and a brutal slider but he fought through this at bat on fastballs alone. Two at bats determined the outcome of the game for the Mets and the next batter represented the first of these. Chapman threw 21 fastballs and two sliders to the first four batters he faced, only one of those pitches according to mlb.com was under 96. With Reyes at third, Willie Harris watched the first four fastballs go by recording a strike and three balls. Two of them were at 95 mph. It doesn’t sound like much but it demonstrates a little fatigue. The fifth pitch also was at 95 mph but inexplicably Harris swung and lined out to left field. Hard to understand with a 3-1 count after he had just allowed a walk to the previous batter.
The top of the 10th started with a Joey Votto fly out to deep center in the cavernous Citi Field followed by a double off the bat of Jay Bruce. Chris Heisey was offered an intentional walk. A soft ground out by Frazier moved the base runners to 2nd and 3rd. Edgar Renteria then was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Dusty Baker then sent Dontrelle Willis to the plate to pinch hit for Chapman and we witnessed that even batters with a .400 batting average record an out 60% of the time. The bottom of the 10th was significant because Nick Masset retired the Mets side in order for only the second time in the game.
With two outs in the 11th inning Drew Stubbs tripled prompting walks to Votto and Bruce. For the second time in two innings the Reds then left the bases loaded when Chris Heisey grounded out to end the inning.
The 12th inning added another strikeout to the growing pile for the Reds this time at the hands of Mike Leake, the second pinch hit pitcher K. The count was now up to 14. Before this game the Reds had reached the 14 strikeout plateau 6 times this season. Sam LeCure dispatched each batter he faced in the 12th with ease. The 13th inning proved to be lucky for the Reds. With one out, Juan Francisco tripled to center field. This really happened I watched the replay to prove it. As he gasped into 3rd base on the wings of a poor relay throw by Jose Reyes (his lone weakness of the game) Drew Stubbs stepped to the plate. He promptly laid down one of the best suicide squeeze bunts bringing home the go ahead run. He never seems to succeed with a sacrifice bunt but put a runner on third and he is the world’s greatest bunter.
So with this roller coaster of a game about to come into the station, Francisco Cordero stepped to the mound. This is the point where the game began to resemble a Salvador Dali surreal painting.
- First Batter – Nick Evans 5 pitches – walk
- Evans caught stealing second by Ramon Hernandez
- Second Batter – Josh Thule 6 pitches – walk
- After Thule is replaced by pinch runner Jason Bay and gets balked to second
- Third Batter – Josh Satin 5 pitches – walk
- Fourth Batter – Jason Pridie 4 pitches -walk
So after 20 pitches, 16 balls (4 in the dirt and dug out by Hernandez) and 4 strikes, Justin Turner steps to the plate. If you recall I suggested there were two at bats in this game I can not understand. The first was Willie Harris swinging at a 3-1 pitch in the bottom of the 9th and now we have Justin Turner as the second. Cordero starts him with his 17th ball in the inning then evens the count at 1-1 with a called strike. Finally for reasons I will never understand he swings at the third pitch softly lining the ball to Todd Frazier almost on top of second base where he easily sidesteps onto the bag to complete the unassisted double play and end the game. Even if the pitch was a strike given the track record why would you ever swing the bat in that situation. Turner is finishing his first full season in the majors so chalk up the error to inexperience and be thankful that not every ball in 2011 has bounced against the Reds, this one had a different author and a better finish.
In all, it was a wild ride but in the end a fun one.
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