By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Resuming the season after the All-Star break with no runs in 18 straight innings, even for a last place team like the Cincinnati Reds, is no way to entice ticket sales or even casual interest.
That’s the way it has started for the Reds: 000-000-000-000-000-0 — a shutout and seven straight scoreless innings in the second game at the hands of Dusty Baker’s Washington Nationals.
After getting shut down Friday night, 5-0, mostly by Gio Gonzalez, the Reds were stopped Saturday night, 10-7, mostly because of six shutout innings by Max Scherzer.
The Reds finally scored seven runs in the final two innings when the Nationals, leading by 10-0, went to its plug ugly bullpen. First, they inserted rookie Austin Adams for his major league debut and he faced five batters without retiring anybody. The two runs scored on a hit batsman and a walk, both with the bases loaded. And they five more in the ninth against Washington’s nearly defenseless bullpen, highlighted by Scooter Gennett’s 16th home run, a three-run rip.
SCHERZER (11-5, 2.01) MUZZLED THE Reds on no runs and three hits over six innings, striking out 10. He has struck out 10 or more 12 times this season and 61 times during his career.
He is Max the Magnificent.
Two of the three Reds hits off Scherzer came from Billy Hamilton on Hamilton’s bobblehead night in front of 36,462.
WHEN A TEAM HAS A PITCHER like Scherzer dangling over a cliff, the modus operandi is to quickly drop an anvil on him or drop a bank vault on him or at least give him a running push.
The Cincinnati Reds were proffered that opportunity Saturday night in Great American Ball Park and failed to react in any of the first three innings.
And they paid the piper. After Scherzer pulled three straight Mandrake the Magician escape acts, he settled into his monotonous get-em-out-easily style and shut down the Reds for six innings.
THE REDS HAD MORE EARLY chances to do away with Scherzer than Wile E. Coyote had against the Roadrunner.
They had two on and no outs in the first. They had one on and no outs in the second. They had two on and no outs in the third.
And not once did they score. They didn’t even find third base.
—Billy Hamilton opened the bottom of the first with a ground rule double and Zack Cozart walked on a 3-and-2 pitch. Scherzer then showed why he is Washington’s version of The Untouchables. He struck out, in quick order, Joe Votto, Adam Duvall and Scooter Gennett.
—Eugenio Suarez led the second with a double and Scherzer doubled down on his strikeouts. In quick order, down went Scott Schebler, Tucker Barnhart and Luis Castillo.
—The third inning was nearly a blue print of the first. Hamilton singled and stole second. Cozart again walked on 3-and-2, a 10-pitch at bat.
Scherzer went to work again. Once again he struck out Votto, the first time since May 24 he struck out more than once in a game. Duvall popped to short and Gennett took a called third strike.
So, in three innings the Reds had five base runners, but none reached third, and Scherzer had eight strikeouts.
FOR THREE INNINGS, REDS rookie Luis Castillo matched Scherez, giving up no runs, no hits and one walk. And he struck out the first batter of the fourth.
Then the hard knocks came calling. Bryce Harper, who homered twice Friday night, singled. Castillo struck out Ryan Zimmerman and was one out away from averting damage.
Instead, David Murphy doubled to left center to score Harper and Anthony Rendon lofted a home run into the left field seats, his 17th, and the Nationals led, 3-0.
FROM THERE THE NATIONALS just piled on, scoring 10 or more runs for the 16th time this season. The Reds have done it four times, two of them during back-to-back games against the San Francisco Giants (14, 13).
Castillo was decent — three runs, three hits over six innings with four walks and six strikeouts. But at 93 pitches he had to come out.
Then it was calamity. Michael Lorenzen started the seventh, faced seven batters, retired one.
The first batter, Ryan Raburn homered. Then came two walks and three singles and a quick departure.
Blake Wood replaced him with the bases full and Rendon hit his second home run of the game, his 18th of the season, and this one was a grand slam to bury the coffee can, 10-0.
MANAGER BRYAN PRICE KNEW before the game how tough the assignment was for his team against Scherzer.
“Like any pitcher, if you expand the strike zone he will wear you out,” said Price. “You have to isolate the pitches you swing out.”
The thing that got isolated was the Reds, standing on the bases without moving and standing in the boxer’s box without producing.
“He is aggressive and he is always on the attack in any situation,” Price added. “On some nights he might give up more pitches to hit than on other nights. Hopefully tonight is one of those games where he’ll give us pitches to hit and instead of fouling them off we put them in play.”
Unfortunately for the Reds, not on this night, not on Scherzer’s watch.