By HAL McCOY
THE CINCINNATI REDS are two pitches away from being 7-and-0, but the 1960 New York Yankees were one pitch away from winning the World Series until Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski hit the only Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history.
That, though, is what makes baseball so unpredictable and lovable. And, yes, painful.
The Reds lost their first game this year when J.J. Hoover gave up a grand slam home run to Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte. The Reds lost their second game Monday night when Jumbo Diaz gave up a first-pitch three-run home run to Chicago’s Addison Russell.
WHAT MADE MONDAY’S defeat so agitating is that Reds starter Brandon Finnegan pitched 6 2/3 hitless innings and had a 3-0 lead in the seventh with two outs and nobody on.
When he gave up a two-out bloop single to former Reds catcher David Ross with in the seventh and then walked the next hitter on four pitches, his 111th pitch, manager Bryan Price wisely took him out to preserve his 23-year-old left arm.
But Tony Cingrani gave up a 0-and-2 two-run single to Jason Heyward and the 3-0 lead was now 3-2.
The Reds, though, still led going into the eighth when Cingrani hit a batter and Caleb Cotham walked a hitter. Jumbo came in and gave up a jumbo home run and that was that.
NOW COMES THE major gut check for the young and enthusiastic Reds. They had a swagger and were oozing confidence when they hit Chicago after winning five of their first six games.
And they were playing magnificently for two-thirds of Monday’s game, the home opener for the Cubs in refurbished Wrigley Field.
They constructed that 3-0 lead against Jon Lester that included a stunning home run into the left field basket by Billy Hamilton. Their third run came in the fourth inning. Then from the fifth through the ninth they had two hits and a walk and closer Hector Rendon struck out the side in the ninth.
IT WAS AS IF SOMEBODY drove a stiletto into a gas balloon.
Can a team not highly respected by the pundits shake off disaster or will it have lingering effects, especially on the rest of this difficult trip that has two games remaining in Chicago and three in St. Louis?
Regardless of the bullpen hiccups in those two losses, Price is upbeat over what he is seeing from his patched together rotation that is absent Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen and Jon Moscot. It necessitated him using Robert Stephenson and Tim Melville in their major league debuts and both were exceptional.
“It has been fun,” he said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen when Robert Stephenson took the ball, really, or Finnegan or Raisel Iglesias pitching the opener. And then we come back with Tim Melville and Alfredo Simon in sloppy conditions.
“It has been a challenge for these guys and they’ve really stepped up,” he said. “There is nothing better than having every starting pitcher help the club win ballgames. It is very unifying.”
OF THE OVERALL team, before the road trip began, Price said, “The guys are very relaxed and having fun. Whenever you feel like everyone is pulling for one another, there is something special about that. It is a long season and everybody knows it isn’t going to go as smoothly as they have.”
That smooth road hit a big chuckhole Monday night and the team had a night off Tuesday to do the town in Chicago and forget about what happened Monday, if they can, before Wednesday night’s game
“If we can keep the right frame of mind and the right attitue we can have some success and I think we have the right personnel to do that.”
If, a big if.