By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnaati Reds, fighting for nothing other than avoiding the ignominy of finishing last, embarked Friday night on a string of 10 straightr games against three teams in the thick of the wild card chase.
The stretch began with three at home against the St. Louis Cardinals, then three at home against the New York Mets and four on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And the Reds showed serious spunk Friday night against the Cardinals, a walk-off bases loaded single in the bottom of the ninth by Eugenio Suarez for a 3-2 victory.
So, the Reds, 1-and-5 on the road against two last place teams (Arizona and Los Angeles Angels) and losers of four straight, knocked off the second place Cardinals.
RED MANAGER BRYAN PRICE was asked if having an impact on the wild card survivors was an incentive or a goal and Price came up with a surprising answer.
“I’ve thought about this because it is the last month of the season for us and I knew that this question would come because it comes every year at this time if you are not in the race,” said Price.
“For me, though, I look at that question and it is way more important to make this month more about us than the other teams,” he said. “The only thing that matters is that we are out there winning games, no matter who we play. You talk about affecting the Cardinals chances of making the post-season, or the Mets, or Pittsburgh. It really doesn’t matter.
“It is not like I worry about who makes the playoffs or who doesn’t if we are not in it,” he said. “I concern myself with the fact that we play well. . .selfishly. It’s for our own purposes with no concern who makes it. We make it about our team and playing better baseball and finishing strong.
“We’ve played better since the All-Star break, about .500, and it would be nice to finish better than that and that has to be our focus,” Price added. “We shouldn’t be concerned about who we are playing and what their playoff aspirations are. They have to go through Cincinnati to get there and we have to think about finishing strong.”
DON’T TRY TO TELL THE CARDINALS THAT the Reds have no killer instinct and aren’t focus to damage hopes and drerams.
The Cardinals built a 2-0 lead on a pair of home runs by Yadier Molina and Randal Grichuk against Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani. And St. Louis rookie Alex Reyes, making his second major league start, shut the Reds down on no runs and three hits through five innings before the Reds broke through with two runs in the sixth to tie it, 2-2.
DeSclafani admitted he wasn’t razor sharp, wasn’t even butter knife sharp, but held the Cardinals to two runs and six hits over seven innings and permitted bullpenners Micahel Lorezen and Raisel Iglesias to put the final plug in the St. Louis bats.
“Personally, I don’t think I was very sharp,” he said. “I got away with a lot of pitches early. That one could have gotten ugly fast. But I’ll take it.”
SUAREZ STRUCK A DAY EARLY. SHOULDN’T he have waited for Saturday night when it is Eugenio Suarez Bobblehead Night?
“No, my team needed me tonight,” he said.
Seun Hwan Oh, extremely effective all year, started the ninth for the Cardinals and started off ugly by walking Zack Cozart on four pitches. Brandon Phillip, batting third because Joey Votto was out of the lineup with a crick in his neck, blooped a single to right field
After Adam Duvall struck out, Scott Schebler drove a 3-and-2 single sharply to right field and third base coach Billy Hatcher wisely held Cozart at third because strong-armed right fielder Stephen Piscotty scrambled quickly to the ball.
With the infield drawn in, Suarez drove a hard one between shortstop and the second base bag to end it.
IT WAS A TIGHT SQUEEZE FOR THE Reds because they stranded 14 runners. They left the bases loaded in the seventh and the eighth innings.
“That was my first walk-off,” said Suarez. “I knew it would come to me soon but today I was given the opportunity and I just tried to get the game over. I tried to hit the ball right in the middle. I watched for a good ball to hit through the middle.
“I said to my mind, ‘This is your opportunity, don’t try too much,’” he said. “I had two hits and stole s base against Yadier Molina, one of the best. But the walk-off was better. But two hits, a stolen base and a walk-off hit — for me, that’s good. And tomorrow a bobblehead.”
BILLY HAMILTON HAD A PAIR of hits, a walk and three stolen bases, pushing his total to 57. He led the bottom of the first with a hit, took second on a wild pickoff throw by Reyes and stole third. But when Phillips grounded to third Hamilton was caught in a rundown and the Reds didn’t score.
Molina homered in the second and Grichuk in the third for the 2-0 lead. The Reds tied it, 2-2, in the sixth when Cozart singled, Phillips doubled, Duvall hit a sacrifice fly and Schebler smacked a run-scoring single for one of his three hits.
Of Hamilton’s action on the basepaths, three more stolen bases against Molina, manager Bryan Price said, “It is amazing. You go back to Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock and Vince Coleman and guys like that and eventually Billy is going to work himself into that mix.
“He is not there yet and I don’t mean to discredit those guys (Henderson, Brock, Coleman), but he is a premier base stealer. Those guys stole against some great catchers, too. He is just an outstanding base stealer with great instincts.”
Price agreed that DeSclafani has had better stuff in other games this year, but he pumped him up for what he did in the fifth inning after Grichuk’s homer made it 2-0. Greg Garcia, who had three hits, followed Grichuk’s home run with a double and was bunted to third.
But with one out, DeSclanfani recorded two of his three strikeouts, whiffing Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyrko.