Mark Lewis remembers his grand place in Cincinnati Reds history

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 21: A detailed shot of a batting helmet before the game between the Cincinnati Reds (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 21: A detailed shot of a batting helmet before the game between the Cincinnati Reds (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

In a recent interview with Blog Red Machine, former Cincinnati Reds infielder Mark Lewis discussed his pinch hit grand slam in the 1995 NLDS.

Former Cincinnati Reds infielder Mark Lewis had a high school baseball career unlike many in Ohio history. When his senior season at Hamilton High School ended in 1988, he held two state high school baseball records; most hits in a single season (73 in 1987), and most career hits (222 from 1985-1988). Both records still stand.

Lewis was named 1987-1988 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year and anticipated being drafted in the upcoming Major League Baseball (MLB) draft. “My senior season was amazing,” said Mark Lewis during our recent phone interview. “I just exploded. I knew I was going to get drafted. I didn’t know I was going to get drafted that high.”

Lewis was drafted No. 2 in the 1988 MLB draft by the Cleveland Indians. “I was just fortunate enough to be drafted number two,” said Lewis. “To be the first high school player taken in the 1988 draft was a big accomplishment and something I am very proud of. It was the most amazing time of my life.”

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Mark Lewis made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1991. He played shortstop over the next three-plus seasons. Lewis’ career took a turn in 1995. Lewis was getting traded, but he wasn’t surprised. “I pretty much had an idea I was going to be traded when they picked up Omar Vizquel,” Lewis added. “I really didn’t play very well in Cleveland, to be honest.”

The biggest surprise was when he found out he was being traded to his hometown team, the Cincinnati Reds. “It was a dream come true for me to play for the Reds, ” said Lewis.

With a new team, came the need to switch positions. Shortstop wasn’t available. “It felt like I wasn’t going to play shortstop anymore,” joked Lewis. “Obviously, they had Barry Larkin. He was head and shoulders above everybody.”

Reds manager Davey Johnson told Lewis he would play the entire season in a platoon at third base with Jeff Branson. Lewis would bat against left-handers, while Branson would bat against right-handers.

“Davey Johson was a great manager,” said Lewis. “He was consistent all year long. It made the game a little easier mentally to play. You knew what situations you were going to be in and what was expected of you.”

The Reds finished the 1995 season in first place in the NL Central with a record of 85-69. They battled the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series. After winning the first two games in LA, the Reds headed home for Game 3.

With the Reds up 3-1 in the bottom of the 6th inning of Game 3, Jeff Branson was on deck with the bases loaded. Left-handed Dodgers reliever Mark Guthrie was on the mound. Lewis knew what was coming.

Davey Johnson pulled Branson back to the bench, looked at Lewis, and said, ““Your up, man. Let’s go.” The platoon was in effect. Lewis was heading to the plate as a pinch hitter. “My thoughts were to hit a fly ball. That’s all I was concerned about, just make sure I get a runner in. I just wanted to hit a sacrifice fly. Get the ball to the outfield.”

“Actually, I thought (Guthrie) struck me out on the pitch before. That was a pretty good pitch and I took it. They called it a ball, thank goodness. On the next pitch, I hit it out.” The ball soared over the fence for a grand slam. Reds led 7-1.

The pinch-hit grand slam put Mark Lewis into the record books. He became the first player in Major League Baseball history to hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the playoffs. As Lewis rounded the bases, many thoughts ran through his mind.

“I was thinking about my dad. He passed away in 1993,” remembered Lewis. “I was thinking about everything I went through in Cleveland. It was just a relief, just a joy. The Reds won Game 3, 10-1, advancing to the NLCS versus the Atlanta Braves. The Braves swept the Reds 4-0.

That offseason, Lewis was traded to the Detroit Tigers. He returned to the Reds in 1999 as a free agent, playing on the team that went to a one-game playoff versus the New York Mets.

In all, Lewis played 13 seasons of professional baseball, seven plus in the Major Leagues. “When I played in the big leagues, I had a lot of experiences playing with a lot of great players,” reminisced Mark Lewis, “for that I am very fortunate, very happy.”

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“I did the best I could and let the cards fall where they may.” Of all the cards that fell, the biggest still stands. He will always be the first player in MLB history to hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the playoffs.