By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — It was a matter of who was going to blink and flinch first — Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jerad Eickhoff or Cincinnati Reds pitcher Brandon Finnegan.
And it was Reds first baseman Joey Votto who made Eickhoff blink and flinch with a leadoff home run in the seventh inning that led to a 2-0 Reds victory on a soggy Wednesday night in Great American Ball Park.
Up to that time, Eickhoff and Finnegan strung zeros across the scoreboard, 0-0, through six innings. And Finnegan, after giving up a walk and a single in the first inning, retired 19 in a row,
Finnegan, amped up and disturbed because he had to wait out an hour rain delay before his start, needed 25 pitches to get through that first inning, then only 63 to cover the next six innings. He threw 13 first-pitch strikes.
A HOME RUN FIGURED TO BE the way to go against Eickhoff. He won 11 games for the Phillies last year, his first full season, with a 3.64 ERA. He started 33 games – 20 were quality starts and 27 time he held the opposition to three runs or less.
His Achilles heel? The home run ball. He gave up 30 last year, third most in the National League.
Votto didn’t hit a home run during spring training and was 0-for-2017, hitless in six at bats, when he led the seventh inning.
After Eickhoff threw ball one, Votto launched the next pitch into the right field seats. Adam Duvall followed with a double and with two outs Zack Cozart singled to score Duvall and make it 2-0.
And that ended Eickhoff’s productive night — two runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings, but a tough-to-take loss.
THAT LOSS CAME BECAUSE Finnegan was at his zenith for this game, a game that started an hour late due to heavy rains. He issued a one-out walk in the first inning, his only walk, and a two out-single to Maikel Franco in the first inning, the only hit he gave up.
From there Finnegan retired 19 straight, nine via strikeouts.
“The first inning I had some jitters because I was really anxious to get out there,” said Finnegan. “I had good defense tonight and was able to keep it low and keep it on the ground.”
The Phillies placed only four balls into the outfield the entire evening.
“The first inning I was getting behind guys, which is why I had the high pitch count,” said Finnegan. “I was able calm myself down, settle myself down and ended up getting a lot of first-pitch outs from the second through the fifth.”
FINNEGAN SAID HE THREW a lot of changeups, a pitch he learned last year from Dan Straily, now pitching for the Miami Marlins, “A pitch I just grip and rip. He helped me with the grip and now it’s history.”
About the rain delay, Finnegan smiled and said, “It kind of pissed me off because it’s the first time I ever had a rain delay to one of my starts. I didn’t know what to do and I was definitely getting anxious in the clubhouse, talking to everybody and getting a little jittery. I thought I handled it well. As soon as they told us we were going to play I ran to center field and started to stretch.”
After his 19 straight outs, Michael Lorenzen replaced Finnegan for the eighth after Finnegan threw 88 pitches and trouble immediately surfaced.
Tommy Joseph grounded up the third base line and Eugenio Suarez’s throw bounced and first baseman Votto couldn’t corral it. It was charitably ruled a hit.
Cameron Rupp followed with an infield hit to deep short and the Phillies had runners on second and first with no outs and hadn’t hit the ball out of the infield.
LORENZEN, THOUGH, REFUSED to blink or flinch. He struck out Freddy Galvis. He struck out pinch-hitter Michael Saunders. He retired Cesar Hernandez on a ground ball to second base, preserving the 2-0 lead.
Raisel Iglesias was presented the opportunity to capture the first save of the season and he did it. He gave up a one-out infield single (the last three Phillies hits were infield hits), then he struck out Franco.
It looked as if the game ended when Herrera was called out trying to steal second but replay revealed he was safe, enabling Iglesias to strike out Joseph to officially end it.