By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Once upon a time Matt Garza was a better-than-average major-league pitcher. Of course, once upon a time bread was 12 cents a loaf, gas was 11 cent a gallon, eggs were 79 cents a dozen and coffee was 37 cents a pound, all back in 1950.
But over the past three years the Brewers have paid Garza $37.5 million and in return he has given them a 19-and-29 record. Ah, such is baseball.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds are paying Dan Straily $512,500 this year and in return he has given them a 12-and-8 record — probably the best bargain in baseball this year. Ah, such is baseball.
Fortunately for the Reds, Garza and Straily didn’t match wallets Tuesday night in Great American Ball Park. They matched fastballs and change-up and Straily was a clear-cut winner as the Reds held the Brewers at arm’s length, 6-4.
STRAILY GAVE UP HIS OBLIGATORY two home runs early in the game, but only one other hit over eight innings to help the last place Reds creep to within 1 1/2 gamess of the fourth-place Brewers.
Straily, the Reds most effective and most consistent pitcher this season, gave his team eight innings of two-run, three-hit pitching, walking one, hitting one and striking out eight during an efficient and proficient 105-pitch night.
Straily’s success, especially in Great American Small Park, is amazing because he is a fly ball pitcher on a playing field that ruins most fly ball pitchers. For example, in addition to the two home runs, Straily pitched only two ground ball outs and retired 10 Brewers on fly balls, two that had his outfielders with their backs to the wall.
How does he do it?
“You make sure those fly balls are higher than they are further,” said manager Bryan Price. “Sometimes guys feel comfortable in certain environments.”
STRAILY IS FEARLESS, DESPITE PITCHING in a park where it seems he can turn and touch the outfield walls.
“It is something I’ve been preaching to all these young guys around me,” he said. “Home runs here are going to happen, they just are. You do your best not to walk people, not to have people on base in front of those home runs. That’s the key. Keep ‘em off the bases and those home runs don’t hurt as bad.”
Straily is certain that of the 27 home runs he has given up this year, second only in the National League to teammate Berandon Finnegan’s 29, more than 20 have come with the bases empty.
“I had two really close to the wall in addition to those two that went over the wall,” he said. “It’s the age-old saying, ‘It is tough to get beat giving up solo home runs.’”
And how does the coziness of Great American, the beckoning outfield walls, not get into Straily’s head?
“They are going to happen — some you give up that go out of any ballpark and then there are some that are only out of here,” he said. “It doesn’t get into my head. I understand it is the environment I’m in and it is going to happen. It is me throwing the pitch that allows it to happen, so it doesn’t matter where it is. It is you versus the hitter and you make your pitches and you have success.”
GARZA GAVE UP FIVE RUNS, only one earned, because the Brewers made two errors during a decisive four-run third inning. The Reds extracted eight hits off Garza, three by Joey Votto, including a first-inning home run, Votto’s 24th, and a third-inning run-scoring single.
Meanwhile, Straily gave up a second-inning home run to Keon Broxton and a third-inning home run to Jonathan Villar as the Brewers took a 2-1 lead.
But the Brewers were able to get only one other hit off Straily, a one-out single in the fifth inning by Orlando Arcia.
After hitting a batter and issuing his only walk with one out in the sixth, Straily retired the last eight Brewers he faced. He turned the ninth inning over to Tony Cingrani, who gave up his obligatory two-run home run, but retired the final two Brewers to end it.
Straily has now pitched 11 games this season in which he has given up three or fewer hits, a franchise record, something never done by Jim Maloney, or Ewell Blackwell or Don Gullett or Tom Browning or Jose Rijo or Johnny Cueto.
“That’s not just me,” Straily said with undue modesty. “I’m the one throwing the pitches, but that’s a lot of (pitching coach) Mack Jenkins and (catcher) Tucker Barnhart, doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work and putting a plan together. The hardest part for me is to execute it, but I’m the benefactor of that success with the defense behind me and the very well-prepared scouting reports.”
And keeping those fly balls very high and not very deep works, too.