By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — It is early, just a few minutes past midnight in baseball time, with a lifetime remaining to the 2017 season.
Even so, who would have thought about it? Who would have dreamed about it? Who would dare suggest it?
The World Series champion Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds, everybody’s pick to drag bottom in the National League Central, played a game for first place in Great American Ball Park Friday night.
Unfortunately for the Reds, the Cubs showed them why they are, well, the Cubs. Down three runs with two outs in the ninth inning, Anthony Rizzo cold-cocked a three-run game-tying home run off Michael Lorenzen.
Then a sacrifice fly in the 11th by Kris Bryant after Robert Stephenson issued a walk and a single to Middletown-native Kyle Schwarber complete the Cubs’ heavy statement, a 6-5 victory.
SO AFTER 16 STRAIGHT DAYS of either tied for first or holding first place alone for 16 straight days, the Reds vacated it to the Cubs. And it was their 19th loss in their last 23 games to the Chicago mob.
The question after the game most pushed at manager Bryan Price was why the righthanded Lorenzen, who had thrown 42 pitches, was permitted to face the lefthanded Rizzo, with lefthanded relief pitcher Wandy Peralta warmed and ready in the bullpen.
“That was Lorenzen’s game to finish,” said Price. “He was one out and one pitch away from ending the game and he gives up a three-run homer.
“That’s a second-guesser’s delight, if you like that sort of thing. But I had the best guy we had available in our bullpen to face the Cubs’ in the ninth with a three-run lead,” Price added. “He just didn’t get it done. I won’t lose any sleep over the decisions. It was a tough one to lose but there is nothing I will second-guess as far as decisions go.”
PERALTA CAME IN FOR THE 10th and pitched a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts. Stephenson pitched the 11th and gave up a one-out walk on a full count to Albert Almora, a hard single to right field by Schwarber that sent Almora to third and he scored the game-winner on Bryant’s medium-depth fly to left.
Of the home run to Rizzo in the ninth, Lorenzen said, “I was going to challenge him and throw every pitch with conviction, just like every pitch I throw. I threw it with conviction and he got me. You tip your cap to him because he is a good hitter, he’s Anthony Rizzo for a reason.”
THIS ONE SHOULD HAVE BELONGED to pitcher Tim Adelman, both on the mound and at the plate. He pitched six innings and gave up two runs, both on home runs, four hits, walked two and struck out seven.
Just as importantly, after Cubs manager Joe Maddon ordered Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart intentionally walked, Adleman put a depth charge into one that clanked off the left center wall, a two-run double in the third that gave the Reds a 3-2 lead that they steadfastly refused to give up, until there were two outs and two on in the ninth and Rizzo did his deed.
It was a twist of fate that Adleman even started Friday’s game. He was called up from Class AAA Louisville last Sunday as an insurance policy, a backup bullpenner for Sal Romano, who was making his major league debut.
But Romano gave up four walks in three innings and used up 82 pitches, forcing manager Bryan Price to bring in Adleman. The former Independent League pitcher who worked for the Lincoln Salt Dogs, El Paso Diablos and New Jersey Jackals in 2012 and 2013 before the Reds found him, pitched four innings and held Milwaukee to ne run and two hits while walking none and striking out five.
Afterwards Price said, “It is obvious Sal Romano needs a bit more polish, so Tim Adleman will start Friday.”
Fate always seems to come knocking at Adleman’s door and he keeps opening it with a smile, a nod, and a thanks for the opportunity.
ADLEMAN GAVE UP A SOLO home run to Jason Heyward in the fourth and a solo home run to Javier Baez in the fifth and nothing else.
From the sixth through the eighth it was protect and escape time for Adleman and the Reds bullpen, struggling mightily to preserve the 5-2 lead.
—The Cubs put two on with one out against Adleman in the sixth, but he worked out of it with a pair of ground balls.
—Drew Storen put the first two Cubs aboard in the seventh, but retired three in a row with no damage.
—Michael Lorenzen put the first two Cubs abord in the eighth, but retired the next three in a row with no damage.
But there was no escaping Cubs magic in the ninth inning.
Schwarber doubled with one out, putting runners on third and second, then Lorenzen recorded the second out before. . .
CUBS LIGHTNING STRUCK AND STRUCK hard. Anthony Rizzo crushed the first pitch he saw into the right field seats for a three-run game-tying home run.
Trailing 1-0, the Reds broke through against Lester in the fourth on back-to-back doubles by Eugenio Suarez and Zack Cozart that tied it, 1-1. Then came Maddon’s fateful decision to intentionally walk Barnhart so Adleman could drill his two-run double.
Adam Duvall homered to right field in the fifth to make it 4-2 and relief pitcher Justin Grimm performed the near-impossible in the sixth. He walked Jose Peraza with the bases loaded, Pereza’s second walk this season, forcing in a run to make it 5-2.
That’s where it stood with two outs, two on and Rizzo at home plate. And Lorenzen’s first pitch changed the course of the game and the NL Central standings, at leas for one night.