By Hal McCoy
CINCINNATI — Like the Rubik’s Cube, the Cincinnati Reds have figured it out, discovered the way to win and win and win.
The plan of attack goes like this: One of the position players strikes out three straight times then comes up late in the game with a chance to win the game and delivers better than UPS and FedEx combined.
One Opening Day it was Joey Votto. He struck out his first three times. Then he came up in the eighth inning of a tie game and squashes a two-run single.
ON OPENING NIGHT IT was was Scott Schebler. He struck out his first three times. Then he came up in the ninth inning with the Reds down a run and rammed a two-run game-ending double to left center field.
Cincinnati 3, Philadelphia 2.
And it saved Reds starter Brandon Finnegan a defeat he didn’t deserve. Finnegan gave up a two-out, two-run home run in the first inning to Maikel Franco and nothing else.
Over six innings he gave up two runs, three hits, walked one and struck out nine. But until the ninth inning the Reds had nothing but a first-inning home run off Eugenio Suarez’s bat. After that the Reds had only three base runners through the eighth inning and never more than one an inning.
THEN CAME THE ninth and the Phillies continued their on-the-job audition for a closer and brought in a guy wearing No. 94 — Cuban-born Danier Hinajosa.
Suarez led the ninth with a single and Joey Votto flied deep to left. Devin Mesoraco beat an infield single and Jay Bruce poked a single to left to load the bases.
Now it was Schebler’s turn. He struck out in the second with Bruce on first and no outs. He led the fifth with a strikeout. Then he struck out in the seventh with one out.
“Man, I struggled those first few at-bats and just couldn’t figure it out,” said Schebler. “I finally made an adjustment. Jay Bruce told me, ‘Hey, you don’t have to hit it 500 feet. Just put the bat on the ball. That really helped.”
After Schebler stirred the breezes with his first three whiffs, he said Bruce told him, “Hey, it is going to come down to you in this game. That’s just how this game works. You struggle throughout the game and it comes down to you.”
AND THE 25-YEAR-OLD left fielder, obtained from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the three-team trade that involved sending Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox, was one pitch away from striking out for the fourth time. But he rocketed the 2-and-2 pitch over the left fielder’s head for the game-winner.
“I could hear Jay screaming at me from first base to deliver and that meant the world to me, to have teammates like that,” said Schebler. “I hope we can make a habit of that and hopefully have a lead late in the game instead of having to come back.”
AND IT WAS Finnegan’s night, too.
“The conditions (cold, windy, drizzly) weren’t good, but it was fun,” said Finnegan. “I had all my pitches working for six innings, thank God.”
He had two outs and nobody on in the first when Herrera hit a little dribbler between home and first, a ball that could have been the third out. Then came Franco’s home run.
“You can’t do anything about those kinds of hits and I wasn’t too happy about it. But you are going to give up those kinds of hits,” said Finnegan. “Then Franco got a pitch out and up and went with it. Luckily I came back and kept the ball down in the zone the rest of the game.”
MANAGER BRYAN PRICE was thoroughly impressed by Finnegan’s stage presence after the home run.
“He stayed in the game mentally and threw a lot of quality strikes,” said Price. “This spring her was, I don’t want to say erratic, but he wasn’t as acute as he needs to be. But tonight he was able to utilize his change-up the way he needed, especially the second and third time through the lineup.”
It is the Phillies right now who wish their bullpen didn’t have to face the Reds the fourth time through the lineup. Right now it is definitely The Danger Zone.