By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds are easily recognizable on any baseball field. They can’t play incognito. They could play games in their civilian clothes and they would be recognized.
They’ve tried camouflage tops and caps. They’ve tried red tops with ‘Los Rojas’ on the front as part of Hispanic Heritage. And on Sunday they tried green tops with green caps as part of Irish Heritage Day in Great American Ball Park.
Whether it was the green hue of the costumes, the luck of the Irish or the Irish music they piped over the public address system, it worked.
The Reds shed a four-game losing streak and finally beat the Pittsburgh Pirates after losing the first three games of the series, 7-4, as Dan Straily pitched his way to his 13th victory.
STRAILY PITCHED SIX INNINGS and gave up three runs and five hits. He struck out five but uncharacteristically walked four. That mounted his pitch-count to 104 and shortened his work day.
And a really funny thing happened. Straily poked a single into right field. It was his 63rd major league appearance at home plate and his first hit.
Just to make it a well-rounded day, Straily gave up a home run to Sean Rodriguez in the sixth inning, the 28th home run off Straily this season. But it was the 239th home run given up by Cincinnati pitchers, tying the National League record set by the Colorado Rockies in 2001. And the Reds are only two behind tying the MLB record of 241 given ukp by the 1996 Detroit Tigers.
THE TALK OF THE CLUBHOUSE, THOUGH — at least by Straily — was his single. And he credits teammates Tucker Barnhart and Tyler Holt with the impetus.
“I’m a pretty good hitter at 4 o’clock (batting practice), I have a pretty good swing,” said Straily. “Tucker and Tyler walked out last week and said, ‘Why don’t you take aggressive swings like that during games?’”
Said Strailey with a shrug, “I don’t know.”
“Well, you should try it? You’re going to look stupid anyway, so you might as well swing hard,” said Holt. “Who cares if you swing and miss. That’s what you do anyway.” Of his 48 official at bats (he has 10 sacrifice bunts and four walks), Straily had struck out 39 times.
“Finally happened, huh?” he said of his hit. “It was probably one of the more memorable moments I’ll ever have on a baseball field. That was awesome. My main concern was hustling down to first base so the right fielder didn’t throw me out. How embarrassing would that be.”
AS HE SPOKE, STRAILY WAS fondling the ball he hit and said, “My agent said the ball probably will be on eBay tonight for $33. No, it won’t.
“To be so brutal at the plate and to get a knock in a major league game is something I’ll always be proud of,” he said. “They can’t ever take that away. It has been a running joke around here every fifth day. So I got a bunt down and got a hit. I just have to make sure I get my bunts down.”
Both Straily and Billy Hamilton are in the top five in MLB in successful sacrifice bunts.
His pitching wasn’t stellar, but good enough.
“I was over 100 pitches and would have gone back out because I understand what our pitching went through in the doubleheader yesterday,” he said. “Giving us six innings today was enough. It’s tough because that was the sixth time this year I’ve seen that team (Pittsburgh). I had to try to stay with what had been working instead of trying to re-invent things because you‘ve seen them so many times.”
MANAGER BRYAN PRICE WAS IN a comedic mode about Straily’s hit, too, and said, “We were ready to burst when it happened. Contact is the place to start. He made contact and I’d like to say he drove it through the right side. But I think it dribbled, to be more descriptive. You can’t get far enough away from him when he talks hitting so hopefully that’s the end of that chapter. I’m not a hitting coach so I can’t tell you how he got the hit. Swing hard in case you hit it.”
But Price can talk about Straily’s pitching.
“It wasn’t his best day from a command perspective, but considering how we’ve gone lately he gave us a chance so we didn’t get behind early,” he said. “We were able to take the lead and stretch it out. It enabled us to get to (relief pitchers) Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias and that’s a recipe that seems to work.”
PITTSBURGH STARTER IVAN NOVA was 5-and-0 with a 2.41 earned run average in eight starts with the Pirates since he was acquired from the New York Yankees at the trade deadline. But the Reds disposed of him in three quick innings, using nine hits to score five runs (three earned).
From the batter’s box, Joey Votto had the 21st four-hit day of his career that encompassed a walk, two singles, a double and his 25th home run. Tucker Barnhart had a different-look afternoon. He tied his career high with four runs batted in, two on a second-inning double and one each on a pair of sacrifice flies.
“Votto getting four hits is not a surprise and that’s unfortunate,” said Price. “Man, his track record is something. Who does this with so much consistency? Who hits the ball on the barrel against all lefties, righties, hard-throws, soft-throws, breaking-ball throwers, guys who pitch him inside, guys who pitch him outside? It is great to have him on our side and not have to pitch against him.”