2010 ended with the Reds atop the National League Central division having completed a 91-71 season. 2011 was not so kind leaving the Redlegs 12 games short of last years performance. With a final record of 79-83 our hopes were dashed. Twelve games, 2 weeks of baseball. Given that the Reds led the majors in one-run game losses I wanted to review 12 opportunities that the Reds missed on the way toward arriving at their ultimate destination: the couch.
The Reds were involved in more one run games than any other team in the Major Leagues. The Reds won more one run games than all but 3 teams in the league: Milwaukee, San Francisco and Cleveland. Milwaukee is the only one of these teams that made the playoffs interestingly. Detroit, Atlanta and Toronto also won 29 one run affairs as did the Reds. Where the Reds led the league is in the category of one run losses. They lost 33 one run games. The losses were recorded by 12 different pitchers. So in picking my twelve games, I favored home games as the best opportunity for the Reds to win but to keep it interesting, I selected a game lost by each of these 12 pitchers. Let’s break them down as we walk down memory lane.
This game featured Brett Myers taking the mound for the 0-5 Houston Astros vs. Sam LeCure and the 5-0 Cincinnati Reds. Scott Rolen tied the game at 2-2 in the 7th inning with his second home run of the season, this one of the pinch hit variety. Incidentally Scott did not hit his next home run until June 17. Dusty Baker brought in Nick Masset who pitched the 8th without incident though did allow a single and a walk stranding 2. Fernando Abad allows a walk in the bottom of the 8th with one out but then induces a one pitch pop out by Juan Francisco and a 4 pitch pop out by Ryan Hanigan. Not taking advantage of this slight opportunity caused Dusty Baker to allow Nick to return to the mound in the 9th.
Brett Wallace singled to open the Astros 9th inning but then Masset induces two foolish at bats that result in 2 fly outs on just 3 pitches. Then Humberto Quintero singles on 5 pitches and Matt Downs doubled to drive Wallace in before Jason Bourgeois ended the inning with another one pitch fly out. The bottom of the 9th brought 2010 super sub Chris Heisey to the plate to try and extend the success Rolen had already had. Heisey failed after battling a bit flying out right. Drew Stubbs grounded out on just two pitches. So with two outs the Reds enter do or die mode. Brandon Phillips singles to center and Joey Votto gets on base with an infield single bringing Opening Day hero Ramon Hernandez to the plate but 4 pitches later he grounded out to end the game and give the Astros their first win and the Reds their first loss. Six days later Masset would again be victimized for a one run loss and set him on the path of mediocrity that he would follow all season.
Edinson Volquez faced Jeff Karstens in this game but neither pitcher was at the top of his game. Karstens lasted just 4 and a third innings allowing 8 hits and a walk along with 5 earned runs. When he left the game against all expectations, he was on the hook for the loss. This is incredible as Volquez gave up 4 runs in the first inning. He then settled down until he had the lead again to allow two more to cross the plate and after 5.2 IP now was responsible for the losing proposition. It is hard to believe that when he left this game he had pitched 22.2 IP while allowing 17 earned runs, 20 hits and 16 walks. And he had a 2-0 record.
The story of this game was runners left on base by the Reds. They recorded 15 hits and 4 walks and yet left 13 runners on base throughout the game getting just 2 hits on 10 attempts with runners in scoring position. The Pirates scored the winning run in the 8th via opportunistic baserunning. Garret Jones reached on an infield single, then stole second. Statuesque reliever Logan Ondrusek had his size used against him as Pirates catcher Chris Snyder laid down a bunt that Logan misplayed allowing Jones to move to third and Snyder to safely reach base. Two outs later with runners now at 2nd and 3rd Andrew McCutchen smacked a single to center to make the score 7-6.
After a minor threat in the 8th that ended in a Scott Rolen double play forced by Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan and an equally innocuous threat by the Pirates against Francisco Cordero leaving Neal Walker at 2nd in the 9th. The bottom of the 9th is an inning that defies description. The Reds collected 3 hits, a walk and a wild pitch and yet did not dent home plate. Jonny Gomes led off with a ground out followed by a Jay Bruce infield hit that landed in front of home and in the ensuing scrum he decided to go for 2nd base when stopping at first was the prudent decision resulting in the second out. Then Edgar Renteria and Paul Janish both singled and were moved to 2nd and 3rd on a wild pitch. Ryan Hanigan was then walked to load the bases for Drew Stubbs who swung on a 2-0 count flying out to center field and ending the threat and the game saddling Ondrusek with the loss because he was too tall.
Armando Galarraga faced Sam LeCure in this game and the missed opportunity was a strong showing by the Reds bullpen from Bill Bray and Logan Ondrusek but and utter lack of hitting by the Reds offense. The Reds posted strong offensive numbers throughout the season but they were frustratingly inconsistent and could go cold in a flash. They did manage 4 runs with just 5 hits which demonstrated efficiency but to win games you need more than just 9 base runners. This game was one the Reds truly let get away without much of a fight. Votto, Bruce, Hanigan and Janish all went hit-less and Brandon Phillips was the only player with two hits for the Reds.
Another first inning collapse by Reds starting pitching marred this game. In total Travis Wood managed just 3.1 IP and allowed 7 earned runs while the Reds bullpen pitched heroically 5.2 innings and allowed no runs. Carlos Fisher did surrender a single to Hanley Ramirez that allowed 2 inherited runners to score but following his hit the Reds were allowed to forge a comeback down after just 3 and a half innings 7-1. They scored 3 in the bottom of the 4th of a Jeremy Hermida 3 run home run and 2 more in the bottom of the 9th to get within one with Drew Stubbs on 2nd but Jay Bruce struckout to end the game. The Reds played so many games from behind after first inning meltdowns it is a wonder they were as competitive as they were.
In all the Reds had 6 one run losses in April, July and August and 7 in May. Another example of the consistent inconsistency they displayed all year long.
A lot was written about this game at the time and in the aftermath it probably was responsible for a couple of more losses due to the emotional and physical strain a 19 inning game takes on the losing side. Carlos Fisher undeservedly took the loss after throwing 5.2 innings but receiving no offensive support.
Two facts scream out for attention in this game. The first was Brandon Phillips getting picked off 2nd base with one out and 2 men on in the 11th inning. J.C. Romero had lost his way on the mound hitting a batter then following with 3 straight walks. Only the pickoff prevented the Reds from winning then. The second missed opportunity came in the 19th inning with infielder Wilson Valdez forced to pitch. All the Reds needed to do was maintain discipline at the plate not swing at bad pitches. Votto swung on a 3-1 count and flied out. Rolen was hit with the first pitch he faced to be followed by Jay Bruce and Carlos Fisher who both flied or popped out on the 2nd pitch they faced. That anyone swung the bat was a frustrating surprise to me. Especially Fisher who should have been fined for moving the bat off of his shoulder. This game sapped the soul of the Reds.
Another missed opportunity on this day against Jo-Jo Reyes and the Blue Jays. This game was significant because your rarely witness a game where no walks are allowed. The Reds recorded just 7 hits and allowed only 6 but the Blue Jays made them count scoring all three runs in the 7th inning off of Mike Leake. This is a game where Dusty let young Leake stay in the game too long after he had pitched well for 6 innings. He hit Corey Patterson to lead off the 7th then allowed him to steal 2nd and scored on a double by Jose Bautista to tie the score. This is where Leake should have been pulled but he remained in and surrendered a first pitch home run to left handed slugger Adam Lind. Scott Rolen hit his third home run of the year in the bottom of the inning to run the score to 3-2 but after 2 more singles Toronto ran out the relief corps and only allowed one more hit the rest of the game. This included 5 consecutive outs by Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski that may have inspired the Cardinals to trade Colby Rasmus to take advantage of their quality relief work.
Stay tuned tomorrow as we examine the last 6 games of the Reds 2011 odyssey they may have been the difference between playoff success and unfulfilled promise.
Follow me on Twitter @JohnHeitz