Yesterday we began with the premise that the Reds won 12 fewer games in 2011 than they did in winning the National League Central Division title in 2010. Twelve games is 7.4% of the season which seems like a significant amount until you look closer and specifically examine games they could, or should, have won. As the Reds led the league with 33 one run losses, the challenge is not finding missed opportunities it is selecting the most significant losses in the group. We started by looking at 6 games occurring in April, May and June. Now we turn to July and the rest of the season.
I decided to select this game to highlight some of the unrewarded excellence that the oft maligned Reds starting pitching corps did provide. This game was first of a seven game road trip pitting the Reds against the Cards for three games followed by four against the eventual division winning Brewers. The Reds needed to win both of these series to return to contention. That is a crazy thing to say considering they were just 2 games behind the Cardinals who were in first but when you sit in 4th place it isn’t the distance it is the hurdles along the way.
Adding to the complication, the Reds were facing nemesis Chris Carpenter with Johnny Cueto taking the mound for Cincinnati. The history between these teams and these pitchers made for a considerable amount of intrigue entering the game. On this evening the pitchers lived up to their billing. Cueto pitched his second losing complete game of the season giving up a classic small ball run in the 8th inning to pinch hitter Mark Hamilton. Hamilton had three pinch hit appearances during the series getting 2 hits, 2 RBI and scoring a run. He was rewarded for his excellent clutch play by being returned to AAA Memphis for the remainder of the season. The Reds threatened in the 1st and the 7th with two base runners each but aside from Joey Votto‘s three hits the Reds could only manage 3 hits and a walk from the rest of the lineup. Dusty Baker made a curious decision in the 7th inning with runners on 1st and 2nd and one out; he first allowed Edgar Renteria and his .231 batting average to fly out on two pitches. Baker then allowed Cueto to bat even though he had only recorded a single hit in 16 at bats all year. He grounded out on the second pitch and ended the last threat of the night. The single positive result that may have been prompted by this game and Renteria’s failure in the 7th, was the call up of Zach Cozart three days later to join the Reds in Milwaukee. The Reds would never get this close to first place again.
The Reds dropped 2 out of 3 games in St. Louis and had already lost the 1st game in a 4 game series against Milwaukee yet they were still just three games out of first. Jay Bruce stepped to the plate in the 7th inning with a man on and and the score tied 5-5 and deposited the second pitch over the right field wall giving the Reds a 7-5 lead entering the 9th inning. Two days before Francisco Cordero had blown his first save in 6 weeks, he still had a 1.69 ERA and had been rock solid all season. Today was not the same. Suffice it to say after 2 walks, 2 singles, a triple and a wild pitch the game was over and the Reds were 4 games out of first place. Cordero would go on to give up runs the next two nights to complete a 4 game string where he he pitched 3.1 innings and gave up a mind bending 7 runs while recording 2 losses in the Milwaukee series. The road trip ended with the Reds winning just 2 of 7 games. They were still in 4th place and the window of opportunity, while still open, was closing fast.
The Reds were now two games under .500 having lost the previous night to Charlie Morton. Take away Morton’s 3 games against the Reds so far in 2011 and he had a 5-5 record, against the Reds he resembled Cy Young with 2 complete games and a total of 23 IP allowing just a single run and earning a 3-0 record. The Pirates had now moved into first place and for Reds fans this was an amazing turn of events given the Pirates 18 year streak of no winning seasons. James McDonald would face Mike Leake on this night and Leake was on fire. He threw 6.1 innings of two hit baseball allowing just one run and was backed up by solid relief work from Nick Masset and Logan Ondrusek. The problem was the Reds bats decided to hibernate. The Reds struck out 9 times and recorded just 6 hits, one of those by Leake himself. Joey Votto struck out 3 times and the Reds left 9 on base. Whatever the reason in 2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates represented the Reds kryptonite defeating Cincinnati 10 of 15 games. In order to win a division you must defeat inferior opponents. The Reds did that in 2010, but losing 2/3 of your games against a team that hits as poorly as the Pirates do is not the recipe for championship baseball. This game was a harsh reminder of that fact.
I am certain every Reds fan has a game in any season where they give up hope. In 2010, we all collectively gave up after the first playoff game shutout at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies. For me, in 2011, July 28 marked my seasons Waterloo. This game featured Chris Capuano facing Homer Bailey. Bailey was at his very worst on this afternoon and apparently Dusty Baker felt unable to turn to the bullpen that had pitched 9.2 innings over the past three losing nights against the Mets. Bailey gave up a run in the first, dodged trouble in the second with a inning ending double play. He seemed to settle down in the third retiring the side in order but then allowed 4 hits and a walk that resulted in 4 runs in the fourth inning. Baker still allowed Bailey to hit for himself in the bottom of the 4th and he responded by driving in a run cutting the Mets lead to 5-2. So he returned to the mound in the 5th inning and faced 5 batters. He allowed a single to Justin Turner, a 4 pitch walk to Daniel Murphy, and a single to David Wright to fill the bases. Angel Pagan then singled to drive in a run but leave the bases full. Then Jason Bay lined a ball into right center field clearing the bases and forcing Baker to mercifully remove Bailey from the game now down 9-2.
The Reds clawed back scoring 7 runs including a 3 run homer by ageless wonder Miguel Cairo and a solo shot by Joey Votto but in the end the Mets scored a final run off a Logan Ondrusek bases loaded wild pitch to insure the final 10-9 tally. No team should ever score 9 runs and lose and yet they did. Following the game, I posted a comparison to the 1970-1971 Reds team at the birth of the Big Red Machine. It was my symbolic tossing in the towel on the 2011 season.
I firmly stand in the corner of Dontrelle Willis. I believe he can succeed in MLB but I doubt it will be with the Cincinnati Reds. Although he did eventually win a game September 25th, the game he lost on August 9th was his best performance in a Reds uniform but in typical Reds fashion the offense decided to take a breather. They left 10 men on base, went 0-9 with runners in scoring position. To make matters worse, the only RBI recorded by the Reds in the game was by Willis himself who hit a triple with Ramon Hernandez on base. Hernandez had 3 hits in the game as well but no one else dropped a timely hit to help Willis along. If attitude and heart win baseball games, then on this day the Reds forgot theirs.
The twelfth game is memorable for who wasn’t in attendance, which is to say everyone. With the approach of Hurricane Irene just a day away the teams and MLB agreed the prudent move was to play a double header on Wednesday instead of trying to brave the storm a day later. This was the last visit to Sun Life Stadium as with the seasons end they are now to be known as the Miami Marlins. Or the team formally known as the Florida Marlins. Or the Miami Reyes’s. Or the MLBPA’s best friend. In singlehandedly moving the free agent market so far this fall, they have certainly made the off season more interesting and if they can go ahead and pick up Albert Pujols they will make 2012 a more pleasant one on each and every visit to St. Louis.
According to unofficial counts, 347 people were counted in the stands. Pictures showed a vacant stadium. When I was a kid I played in little league games with more fans than this.
The Marlins came to the plate in the bottom of the 8th inning embroiled in a 3-3 tie. Jose Arredondo started the inning by striking out the first batter then surrendering a triple and a single now with a 4-3 deficit. Bill Bray stepped to the mound and the bleeding continued giving up a single, a pop out, then a 2 run double. The Reds scored 2 runs in the top of the 9th of the bat of Todd Frazier just to tease us but in the end it was just a tease…and a way to make this list.
This list is in truth a fantasy, but it does demonstrate the the opportunities between a triumphant season and a disappointment are not that wide a chasm. Timely hitting, effective hitting, and just plain dumb luck are the most important ingredients in must championship runs. Certainly anyone looking at the twists of the Cardinals season would agree they had all of these with an extra helping of luck and a side of collapse on the part of the Atlanta Braves. The Reds have what they need, but the leaders need to lead and the role players must fulfill their roles as they did in 2010. Here’s hoping for twelve more wins in 2012 or even more…
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