By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds were Masters of Escapology Friday night in Great American Ball Park with Devin Mesoraco playing the part of Harry Houdini.
The Reds beat the Atlanta Braves, 3-2, in 10 innings, but how they got there was a ph.D. in Escapology.
Mesoraco led the 10th inning with a game-ending, walk-off home run to put the emphasis on the night.
But there was excitement before that. The Reds came to bat in the bottom of the ninth down 2-0 with Atlanta closer Jim Johnson on the mound.
QUICKLY, ADAM DUVALL LED with a double and Eugenio Suarez doubled to cut Atlanta’s lead to 2-1. Scott Schebler struck out and Jose Peraza grounded to short with Suarez moving to third.
Two outs. Tying run on third base. Tucker Barnhart batting. One out away from defeat.
Amazingly, Johnson threw a ball 55 feet, five feet short of home plate and in the dirt and the ball bounced free enabling Suarez to score the tying run.
Mesoraco did not start the game. He sat for nine innings and came into the game in the top of the 10 as part of a double switch to get pitcher Raisel Iglesias into the game.
WHEN COMPLIMENTED ON THE double switch, manager Bryan Price said, “I just had a feeling about Mez tonight. I usually have Mendy (Arismendy Alcantara) in that spot because he has done a phenomenal job off the bench.
“I don’t know why, but I just had a good feeling about Devin,” Price added. “Bless his heart. It is really nice to have him back. He is not only an excellent player, but a great teammate and you can never get enough of those guys.”
Mesoraco, though, was not feeling good about himself before the game, not feeling comfortable with his swing.
“The last week or so my hands reverted back to their old position, a bad position for me,” he said. “That was when I wasn’t feeling so good so we just tried to get them back where they are supposed to be.”
THE DRIFTING HANDS WERE noticed by hitting coach Don Long and he worked with Mesoraco, which meant some extra hitting before batting practice Friday. “I wasn’t hitting the ball hard, wasn’t having good at bats,” said Mesoraco. “My bat wasn’t getting through the zone the way I thought it should be. We identified that and took some extra swings on the field before the game.”
And then he took The Big Swing in the 10th inning.
THE CHEERS WERE LOUD and effusive for Mesoraco, but not as loud as they were for one of the guys wearing Atlanta blue.
It is, indeed, a sad occasion for the Cincinnati Reds, LLC, when an opposing player is cheered and applauded throughout the game more than any player wearing the home uniform. It wasn’t even close.
And why would the Reds pay tribute to that player by displaying highlights of his career between the top and the bottom of the first inning?
FOR THE FANS, IT WAS BECAUSE they love second baseman Brandon Phillips, traded by the Reds to the Braves last winter.
Whatever the case, when Phillips came to bat in the top of the first, fans gave him a rousing standing ovation that lasted so long he stepped out of the batter’s box and doffed his batting helmet.
And then struck out.
As for the Reds and their scoreboard tribute, perhaps it is because they are still paying the guy, paying him $13 million to play for another team, a team that was trying to beat the Reds.
They nearly beat them, but didn’t and they received no help from Phillips — 0-for-5 on a strikeout, line drive to right, fly to right, a pop foul to first with a runner on third and two outs and a two-out strikeout in the ninth with a runner on first.
IT WAS NATIONAL DONUT DAY and Braves starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz didn’t need too much help from Phillips or the rest of his friends.
He was rolling donuts at the Reds, inning-by-inning — 000-000-0 — seven innings, no runs, two hits, two walks, 10 strikeouts. The Braves lost the first six games Foltynewicz started this season and had won three of his previous four starts. It should have been four of his last five starts but the bullpen let him down.
Bronson Arroyo pitched perfunctorily, giving up only two runs in six innings but received zero offensive helps from his teammates while he was on the mound.
He gave up a run in the third on back-to-back no-out singles by Adonis Garcia and Dansby Swanson, a sacrifice bunt by Foltynewicz and a sacrifice by by Ender Inciarte
Then came Arroyo’s biggest bugaboo this season, the home run ball. No. 8 hitter Swanson homered down the left field line leading off the fifth, the 19th home run given up this year by Arroyo in 56 2/3 innings up to that time.
AND IT GAVE THE BRAVES a 2-0 lead that didn’t disintegrate until the ninth and 10th.
“Bronson did a really nice job keeping people off balance and staying out of the middle of the plate,” said Price. “He is feeling better. We’re all pulling for him to get back to being that innings-eater. But I’ll take two runs over six innings all year and if he wants to do that I’m fine with it.”