By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — After Billy Hamilton blazed around the bases, theoretically stealing home from first base, a fan said, “That was the most fun thing to watch all year.”
The Cincinnati Reds didn’t give their fans many fun things to enjoy in 2017, but what Hamilton did Sunday afternoon during his team’s 5-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox is something only Billy Hamilton can do.
The Red Sox came from three runs down to score four runs in the eighth inning to win this one, but that was just the Boston Red Sox being the Boston Red Sox.
And that was just the Cincinnati Reds being the Cincinnati Reds — lose a game they had well in hand.
But other than a large gathering of Red Sox fans, Hamilton’s route around the bases is what fans will remember about this game through a long winter’s nap.
HAMILTON WALKED WITH ONE out in the seventh inning. With Boston’s Brandon Workman pitching, Hamilton broke for second and was picked off as Workman threw to first. Hamilton stopped as first baseman Mitch Moreland threw to second baseman Justin Pedroia.
Hamilton popped his clutch and slammed it into reverse, heading back toward first. But Pedroia’s throw to first evaded Moreland and rolled toward the Reds dugout.
AND THE SHOW HAD JUST begun. Hamilton raced to second, rounded second and raced to third. And never stopped. With nobody covering home Hamilton flopped into the dirt and across the plate. In effect, he stole home from first base.
And cut his eyebrow open in the process as his helmet dug into his skin. But he was feeling no pain.
“I was just trying to get to second base, but that’s one thing about me when I run — I run with my head up so I can see what is happening,”’ said Hamilton. “When I got to third I saw that nobody was at home. I was really pumped up about it.
“And you can’t really blame anybody because nobody expects anybody to run home on that play,” Hamilton added. “Nobody expects anybody to even think about that, but I love to run the bases and love to do crazy things.”
Asked if that was his most enjoyable trip around the bases this year, he smiled broadly and said, “I think that made my whole career. That was one of the best ones, especially when I was caught in a rundown and didn’t even expect to get to second base and end up getting home. I was just mad I got picked off and I ended up scoring. That’s not how I drew up it, but I’ll take it.”
SAID APPRECIATIVE MANAGER Bryan Price of Hamilton’s Kentucky Derby gallop, “It was remarkable that he went from first to home when the ball was so close to home plate. I was amazed at his ability to score.”
Hamilton on the bases is full of amazements.
THAT WAS THE FUN moment on Fan Appreciation Day, the Reds’ last home game of the season. They drew 25,545 Sunday. They finished the season with 1,836,917 fans, only the second time in the last eight years they failed to draw two million as fans show their displeasure for last place finishes and a rebuild that seemingly is taking longer than construction on I75 through downtown Cincinnati.
The day’s hard work was performed by rookie pitcher Jackson Stephens, toiling under a blazing sun in Great American Ball Park. The Reds had lost five straight home games when Stephens threw his first pitch and the way he pitched made it look as if the Reds would win their last home game of the season. They didn’t, but it was not Jackson Stephens’ fault.
He held the Red Sox, the American League East’s first place occupants, to one run, two hits and two walks over six innings.
THE ONLY RUN CAME ON a fifth-inning home run by Rafael Devers that tied the score, 1-1. The only other hit off Stephens was a leadoff double in the third by Sandy Leon, but he never budged from second base.
“He was really good, real aggressive in the zone,” manager Bryan Price said of Stephens’ third major-league start. “He and pitching coach Mack Jenkins worked all week on a comeback sinker.
“He threw some really good ones and he just worked on the pitch three days ago,” said Price. “It is good to see that he has good learnability. He learned something new quickly and put it to work in his first game with that pitch and challenged hitters in the zone.”
THE SOFT-SPOKEN STEPHENS, A 23-year-old right hander for Oxford, Ala., was low key about holding the bombastic Bostons to two hits over six innings.
“Mistakes get hit up here and I made one today,” he said of the Devers home run. “It was an 0-2 count and I made a mistake and got hurt for it.
“I was able to locate some fastballs and some sinkers and some changeups and some breaking pitches and some sliders in some good counts,” he said, revealing his arsenal includes everything but the pitching rubber and the rosin bag.
Of his work last week with Jenkins, he said, “We worked on some sinking fastballs and some changeups,” he said. “I was able to locate the ball better and focus on those situations when you need a groundout or a big out. You try not to overanalyze things, you just throw that pitch down the zone and get some outs.”
THE REDS BROKE 1-1 tie with two runs in the bottom of the fifth on an infield hit, a bloop single by Stephens and an error on the hit that scored a run and Hamilton’s triple to make it 3-1.
Then came Billyball’s ‘theft of home’ from first base to make it 4-1.
But Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias couldn’t preserve and protect that lead. The Red Sox scored four times in the eighth to take a 5-4 lead.
Lorenzen started the inning with a walk and a single. Iglesias replaced him and retired the first hitter. But he issued a full-count walk to Andrew Benintendi to fill the bases.
Mookie Betts fouled off a couple of 2-and-2 pitches, one that nearly turned into a grand slam but was foul, then ripped a three-run double to left center to tie it, 4-4.
Rafael Devers chopped one up the third base line and Eugenio Suarez fielded it and threw to first. Devers beat the throw for an infield single and Betts, in his best Billy Hamilton imitation, never stopped and scored from second on the infield hit, crossing home plate in a cloud-of-dust belly slide for the eventual winning run.
ALL THAT REMAINED WAS for Boston’s stork-like closer, Craig Kimbrel, to do this thing. And he did it. A 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 35th save in 39 opportunities.
The usually reliability Iglesias was not up to putting the stopper into Boston’s uprising and Price said, “We’re trying to win every game we have a chance to win.
“It has been a long year. You try to get your best guy in there, but it has been a long year and season for Iggy, too. He has had a lot of multiple-inning appearances and long innings. It’s unfair to constantly ask him to dig us out of these situations with two-inning saves. It didn’t work out at all today.”