Marathon Men Cincinnati Reds Win in 15


Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It took longer than expected, but the Cincinnati Reds topped the Washington Nationals by a final of 4-3 in 15 innings of action.

The game began ominously enough with Billy Hamilton attempting to drop down a bunt on the first pitch, but Wilson Ramos made a sprawling grab to record the first out. It was impossible to know at the time, but nearly five hours of baseball remained.

Neglecting to score in the first inning, the Reds would face an uphill battle all game long against one of the game’s premier arms in Stephen Strasburg.

Nearly getting on the board in a Memorial Day-sized gift in the top half of the second, Todd Frazier lazily lofted a fly ball down the right field line. Camped under it, Jayson Werth took a wobbly step, and then watched as the ball bounced off the heel of his glove and went down to the grass below.

To back the statistic of the Reds going 2-for-24 with runners in scoring position on Monday night, the first three opportunities were squandered in that inning.

Over the course of an outing, even the elite starting pitchers will have a befuddling weakness that contributes to their demise. On Monday night, Strasburg’s kryptonite was plunking the opposition.

With his blazing fastball that seemingly has steam emitting off the tail end and a devastating curveball that buckles the knees of even the fan at home, facing Strasburg is no easy task. Much in the way scoring off Aroldis Chapman is a challenge (more on that later), it is more of the same with Strasburg.

Getting on the board in the fourth to take a 1-0 lead took a bit of improvisation. After hammering Todd Frazier up and in, Brayan Pena singled to right and watched as the always-aggressive Frazier scurried over to third.

Surely not wanting to watch more failed attempts at driving runners home, Bryan Price put on the only play (sans a squeeze) he really could. Of all people, Pena broke from first base and forced a throw down to second by Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos. As if the two were attached to a string, Frazier came jogging down the line as soon as Ramos released the ball—the Reds happy to trade an out on the basepaths for a run to finally cross the plate.

Lightning struck twice for the Reds in the top of the fifth as Zack Cozart led off the inning by taking a fastball off the arm. After a sacrifice bunt and an infield single from Billy Hamilton, they had runners on the corners with just one out yet again. This time, there would be no need for a trick play, as Skip Schumaker laced a single into center field, scoring Cozart and sending Hamilton dashing over to third. As the game, and really the whole season has gone though, the middle of the order was unable to cash in any more runs.

Even though the Reds possessed a 2-0 lead in the top of the seventh, as soon as Billy Hamilton reached on a base hit, his job was to find his way home. Swiping second for his 16th steal of 2014, Hamilton moved over to third with already two outs in the inning. With the incredible feats of speed fans everywhere have seen from Hamilton, the one play that he, of all people, could pull off, is the steal of home.

With the way the Reds have been hitting with runners in scoring position and with two outs, taking off for home was not the worst idea. Of course, when Strasburg reacted accordingly and Hamilton was nabbed fairly easily, the play looked foolish. He may not have been successful, but now the idea that Billy Hamilton might swipe home is on the scouting report of every pitcher in baseball.

Lost amongst the hoopla surrounding his former youth teammate and draft class mate, was Mike Leake. For all intents and purposes, Leake outpitched Strasburg. Even though he walked a very fine line and does not have the win to show for it, round one of Leake v. Strasburg sides with the Arizona State product.

As usually the difference in his starts can be, had Leake and Devin Mesoraco not gotten crossed up on just one of their 110 pitches together, it is possible the game did not have to go into early Tuesday morning. It was subtle, but allowing a runner to scoot over to second on a wild pitch, and then score to cut the lead to 2-1, would mean the difference between a win and a no decision for Leake.

Drop Aroldis Chapman into a different era of baseball, and he may be known as the single-most dominant pitcher to ever walk the earth. In the modern era, batters can get ahead of 100 MPH fastballs and hammer them where they so choose. Unfortunately, Chapman was the victim of that on Monday.

Falling behind Danny Espinosa in the count, 3-1, rather than wanting to walk him, Chapman took a bit off and fired in a 99 MPH fastball that was shot back out like a rocket for a leadoff double. Executing to a tee, after two fly balls, the Nationals tied the game.

Heading to extra innings, things seemed bleak for Cincinnati with all the momentum in the corner of Washington, and having already used their three primary (Sam LeCure, Jonathan Broxton, and Aroldis Chapman) relievers just to reach that point. By the end of the night, regardless of the collective ERA’s, it would be difficult to call the Reds bullpen the worst in baseball.

Devin Mesoraco narrowly missed a two-run home run in the tenth inning that was shakily wheeled in by left fielder Kevin Frandsen right in front of the wall.

Coming out for his second inning of work, a fired up Aroldis Chapman retired the side in order.

Defensive replacement Neftali Soto was unable to drop a bunt down in the 11th inning as the bottom of the Reds order, and pinch-hitter Ryan Ludwick, left runners on base once again, prolonging what seemed to be the Reds eventual demise.

At the conclusion of the 11th inning, it became nail-biting time. With Sean Marshall apparently not available, it was up to J.J. Hoover and Logan Ondrusek to finish the game, one way or the other.

Getting the ball first was Hoover. Nary a thing has gone right for Hoover thus far in 2014, and losing this game would have all but assured him a bus ride down to Louisville, one could believe. With his ERA hovering north of 10, it would be a miracle if he could continue the game for the Reds.

Not that this should jump off the page, but Brandon Phillips is the single-most important defensive weapon in baseball. The man covers more ground and makes more spectacular plays day in and day out than nearly any player in the game. That’s why his game saving (and career saving for Hoover) catch in the bottom of the 12th where he completely fully extends to make the grab should surprise, but simply, he’s just “Dat Dude.”

They say history repeats itself. It did not take long for that axiom to hold true with Neftali Soto, who after the first two runners reached in the 13th inning, could not get a bunt down. Of course, he eventually did, but it went all of three feet and created an easy force out at third base.
Another inning by the wayside and the game was headed towards the 14th.

For the remainder of the way, it seemed to be Logan Ondrusek’s game. He did not look long for the stay after the first batter he faced ripped a double down the left field line. In an instance very un-Ondrusek-like, he got the next two batters. Still, when Anthony Rendon laced a shot to center field, there was not a human being alive that could make the grab.

By now, you know that Billy Hamilton cannot possibly be a human being. He possesses the speed of a Looney Tunes character in a man’s body. In all the ways that Phillips’ grab was a shocker, how in the world Hamilton covered that much ground in such a short span of time and still managed to catch the baseball is baffling. Clearly, he wanted the always-popular 14th inning stretch to occur.

Even a broken watch is right twice a day. And even the Cincinnati Reds have to drive in runs eventually. Uncoiling on a Ross Detwiler fastball, Todd Frazier clobbered a two-run blast deep into the night, putting the Redlegs ahead 4-2 in the top of the 15th inning.

For the second inning in a row, Ondrusek allowed a leadoff double. Clearly, this game refused to end quietly. After a Texas leaguer dropped in between the Bermuda triangle of Hamilton, Phillips and Skip Schumaker to cut the lead in half, Danny Espinosa strolled in.

Had the blast by Espinosa been at Great American Ball Park, the Nationals are walking off happily. Thanks to the cavernous confines of Nationals Park (and Schumaker’s no doubles defense); Schumaker squeezed the 45th and final out for the Reds on Monday night.

Exhaustively enough, the game had finally concluded.

The two reconvene on Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m., as a demoralized Nationals club gets no rest for the weary as the hottest pitcher in baseball takes to the hill.

Facing Johnny Cueto when an offense is going good is a difficult task—facing him after a 15th inning snoozer–nearly impossible.

The Nationals will counter with Doug Fister, a lanky, tall right-hander.

For those potentially out of the area, the game will also get some national exposure, as the MLB Network will be carrying the broadcast.