By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Succinctly put, the Cincinnati Reds bullpen is still a mess in progress and Milwaukee Brewers attacked it like ants at a Sunday picnic. And Brewers third baseman Aaron Hill was the point ant — three consecutive home runs and seven runs batted in.
The Brewers scored seven runs in the 10th inning, including a grand slam by Hill off Caleb Cotham, to obliterate the Reds, 13-7.
Gotham began the 10th, asked two protect a 6-6 tie, but he gave up two infield hits and a line drive single to fill the bases for Hill. Hill drilled a 2-and-0 pitched into the left field seats.
Reds starter Brandon Finnegan had a 6-2 lead in the fifth until Hill hit his first home run to cut the lead to 6-5. Then Hill homered off J.C Ramirez in the eighth to tie it.
And the bullpen, which finally pitched a game without giving up a run Friday night, the first time since setting a major league record of giving up runs in 23 straight games, started a new streak.
On to something more pleasant on this most unpleasant evening.
FOR MOST BASEBALL players, playing 1,000 games in the major leagues is a major accomplishment. So how stellar is to have two players on one team not only
play 1,000 games together, but to do it side-by-side?
That was the case Saturday night in Great American Ball Park when Reds first baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips started their 1,000 game together.
The Odd Couple? Some would say that.
It look like a memorable 1,000th night when Votto drove in two runs on a hit-and-run single (Billy Hamilton scored all the way from first on the single to left field). Phillips hit two homers, his fourth and fifth home runs in four nights, a first for his career, and the Reds constructed that 6-2 lead that dissipated into a six-run loss.
The Brewers came to town with a $60 million payroll, lowest in baseball, and two players — Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy — making $30 million of it. And the Milwaukee rotation lugged a 6.34 earned run average, highest in the majors.
The Reds took advantage of it against Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson, scoring one in the first, two in the second and one in the third, with the Phillips home run coming in the third. Then they added two more in the fifth
Then they hit the snooze button against the Brewers bullpen.
Nelson actually was the only effective Brewers starter so far this season, owning three of the team’s quality starts and opponents were hitting only .204 against him. But the Reds committed assault and battery upon his fastballs, sliders and cutters. But not the bullpen.
“IT HAS BEEN A great marriage together,” said Votto of the 1,000-game attachment to Phillips. “We’ve had a really nice run so far and he is a real treat to play beside defensively. Watching him I get to learn all the time. I think he turns 35 this year and he doesn’t seem to be aging. He looks great and his swing is great.”
Phillips finished the game with six home runs and a .297 aveerage. Votto, who hits directly in front of Phillips in the batting order, has four home runs and is hitting .229.
“I never thought this was going to happen,” said Phillips. “I just go out and play the game. I play every day, too. I’m just playing the game that I love. That’s awesome playing next to J.V. It’s an honor playing next to him. We have a great relationship. No one knows Joey like I do. We talk a lot about a lot of things, not just baseball. He’s starting to loosen up and smile more.”
Vote didn’t have much to smile about early in the season when his average hovered near the .160 mark, but he has picked up of late and his average is on a steady incline.
“I feel really lucky to play with Brandon,” said Vote. “The highlights of Phillips’ plays aren’t what gets me. It is the plays he makes every day. He does not miss a ball. He may have missed one this year when he was playing way back on a shift defense. Watching him day-in and day-out for 10 years, this guy misses no plays and makes the accurate throw every time. Where he doesn’t get credit is that every day he makes the basic play over and over and over.”
THERE WAS A TIME, when Votto signed his 10-year $225 million contract, that Phillips felt slighted. He told a local magazine that the Reds promised to talk to him before they signed Votto but they didn’t. And he felt when it came time for him he was short-changed because most of the cash went to Votto.
But he didn’t make it a personal thing.
“Our relationship has grown and I care about his success, him as a person, his family,” said Votto. “He is someone the fans get excited for and they love having him here. It was a little weird in the off-season when he was about to go. I couldn’t imagine Brandon Phillips in another uniform.”
The Reds had trades constructed to move Phillips at least twice, maybe three times (New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, Washington Nationals), but Phillips invoked his 10-and-5 no-trade rights and remained in Cincinnati.
PHILLIPS WAS ESTABLISHED, a 30-30 guy (30 homers, 30 stolen bases) when Votto arrived on the scene from the minors in September of 2007.
“I can’t remember a specific game but I remember when they called him up in September. He hit two home runs. I thought, “This guy will be special,’” said Phillips.
Votto and Phillips have choreographed a tandem leap and arm bump celebratory exercise when one or the other hits a home run. Asked about it, Votto said, “What was it Bryce Harper said (while criticized baseball for boredom)? It’s not what the game can do for you, it’s what you can do for the game. And we are out there trying to make baseball fun again. We’re doing our very best.”
They both did it Saturday night, furnishing offense, but Reds starter Brandon Finnegan couldn’t hold on to a 6-2 lead. His first two mistakes were against the two highest paid Brewers, Braun and Lucroy. Braun homered in the fourth, his 19th in Great American Ball Park, the most for him in any enemy park. Lucroy led the sixth with a home run.
And remember Votto saying Phillips makes every play. Somebody says something like that and something bad happened. Phillips booted a routine ground ball with no outs in the sixth and Aaron Hill homered, cutting the score to 6-5 and ending Finnegan’s evening.
Then came the bullpen breakdown.