By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Dan Straily and Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Zach Davies each waited for the other to blink first.
Neither blinked. Not once. They were both wide-eyed and bushy-tailed for seven innings Sunday afternoon in the Great American Ball Park hot box, each pitching seven scoreless innings of a recital on how to pitch a major-league baseball game.
Then, in a blink of an eye — and if you blink you miss Billy Hamilton — the game was over in the bottom of the ninth when Hamilton scored from third base on a passed ball, a ball that rolled no more than eight feet away from mortified catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
So, it was the rarest of the rare in GABP, a 1-0 game, a 1-0 game won by the Reds, accomplished without benefit of a hit by the Reds in the ninth.
AND THERE WERE TWO OUTS and nobody on of a 0-0 tie when Brewers relief pitcher Tucker Thornburg walked Billy Hamilton. A pitcher never wants to walk Billy Hamilton with a game in jeopardy.
With Joey Votto coming to bat, Brewers manager Craig Counsell brought in left hander Will Smith and he walked Votto on a full count, moving Hamilton to second. With Jay Bruce at bat, the Brewers put on the exaggerated shift, moving third baseman Will Middlebrows to where the shortstop plays.
On the first pitch, with third base unguarded, Hamilton stole it, his 150th career theft. And why would the Brewers permit Hamilton to move 90 feet away from scoring the winning run without challenging him?
“More bad things than good things can happen when you try to throw Hamilton out,” said Counsell.
ON THE NEXT PITCH, THE baseball glanced off Lucre’s glove and Hamilton, who had a large lead, bolted for home and slid head first with a walk-off passed ball victory.
“Billy Hamilton is one of the few guys who can score on that play,” said Counsell.
And what did Hamilton think of the whole thing? Who knows? The media waited around his locker for 30 minutes after the game, but he was gone — taking off for his real home quicker than he took off for home plate.
STRAGGLY HELD THE BREWERS to no runs and three hits over seven innings, walked one and struck out four. No Brewer reached second base until the sixth when Straily walked Jonathan Villar to open the inning. Villar, Milwaukee’s version of Hamilton, stole second while Ryan Braun was striking out and took third on catcher Tucker Barnharts throwing error. Lucky grounded to short to end Milwaukee’s only minor threat.
“My slider was a great pitch today and we picked good times to use it,” said Straily. “What made the slider better was the fact I could throw my fastball wherever I wanted it when I wanted to. That makes pitching a whole lot easier.”
Manager Bryan Price heaped praise on Straily, who worked for more than two hours to do his duty while Hamilton did his act in about four minutes from the time he walked until the time he scored.
“He was really good, really good,” said Price of Straily. “That’s a team that put up nine runs on us yesterday. They were feeling good about themselves coming off their win on Saturday and Dan came in and challenged them in the zone, stayed away from the base on balls and made big pitches throughout the course of the game.”
It was ominous for the Reds in the first when Zack Cozart led the bottom of the first with a single and Hamilton beat out a bunt single — two on, nobody out.
But Milwaukee starter Davies put a muzzle on the meat of the Reds order to escape unscathed — a short fly ball from Joey Votto, a fielder’s choice ground ball by Jay Bruce and a blooper to center by Adam Duvall on which Kirk Nieuwenhuis made a belly flopping catch to save a run and end the inning.
From there, Davies gave up only two singles over the next six innings and no walks and the game droned into the ninth a 0-0.
THEN CAME HAMILTON’S dash for cash.
“Billy Hamilton is THAT guy,” said Price. “When I say this, take it with a grain of salt because I am not implying that Billy Hamilton is Rickey Henderson or Lou Brock. What I’m saying is that he affects the game from a base-stealing standpoint and a speed standpoint. It changes the look of the game.
“It changes the face of a game and really does turn a defense upside down, creates a lot of anxiety on the defense,” Price added. “How about that. Two outs, nobody on, Billy’s up. He grinds out a walk and three or four minutes late the game is over. Suddenly, there it was. And that ball didn’t get very far away from Lucroy. How many guys in baseball push to make that play?”
It is what Hamilton lives to do on the base paths and on this day his mad dash was the only dash of the day that meant anything and, as always, Hamilton did it in world class time — then made an even quicker and longer dash for his real home.