By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The question was a simple one and the answer was compound but also simple.
Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price was asked before Thursday night’s game in Great American Ball Park against the St. Louis Cardinals: “Coming off a rough road trip (1-and-6) how are you going to turn it around now that you’re back home?”
Price never hesitated because the evidence has been in front of him for 11 games, only two of which the Reds won.
“We have to execute better, find ways to pitch better and find ways to get some early leads and maintain those leads,” he said. “We haven’t been in the driver’s seat very often. We’re trying to play catch-up a lot and it is not a great recipe. We have to flip the script on that.”
The Reds switched the script — for three innings. They came back from behind twice to take a one-run lead.
It was a horrible, horrible mirage and the seventh inning was a horrible, horrible nightmare. St. Louis scored seven runs on two home runs and five straight walks and smacked the lifeless Reds, 13-4.
Of the team’s 10 losses, many were ugly. But this one took top honors with no argument.
For those counting, it was the Reds 10th loss of the season against only two victories and the losses get uglier and uglier and uglier.
Sure enough, the Reds fell behind before the sun ducked behind the grandstands as the Cardinals scored twice off starter Sal Romano in the first inning, putting the Reds in the back seat right from the git-go.
And the task seemed daunting because they were facing pitcher Michael Wacha, who walked to the Great American Ball Park mound with an 8-and-1 career record and a 2.85 earned run average in 14 starts against the Reds.
This time, though, the Reds did strike back quickly, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first to tie it.
Then the fell behind, 3-2, on Marcell Ozuna’s home run, but scored twice in the third to recapture the lead, 4-3. Billy Hamilton, batting leadoff, reached base his first two times and scored, as did Jose Peraza, batting second.
Now that’s what Price was talking about.
Alas, it didn’t last.
The Cardinals tied it, 4-4, on an unearned run made possible when Reds shortstop Jose Peraza dropped Dexter Fowler’s pop-up in shallow center field to lead the inning. And he scored when Romano walked Jose Martinez with the bases loaded.
St. Louis barged in front, 5-4, in the sixth when Austin Brice gave up a leadoff home run to Jose Martinez that nearly knocked down the Toyota Tundras truck sitting aloft on its left center field pedestal.
Then things got plug ugly. Pitcher Zach Weiss made his major league debut to open the seventh and a trip to the dentist for a root canal would have felt better.
Weiss fell behind 2-and-0 to his first two batters and both crushed home runs — Jose Martinez and Yadier Molina. Weiss walked the next batter on four pitches and threw balls out of the zone on the next hitter — 15 pitches and only three strikes, two of which crash landed in the seats for home runs.
And his debut was over.
Next up was Tanner Rainey, making his second major league appearance. In his first in Philadelphia, he gave up a grand slam home run.
Rainey promptly walked three in a row, forcing in two runs as the St. Louis lead stretched to a carnival/circus lead of 9-4. After five straight walks by Weiss and Rainey, Rainey finally got an out, a sacrifice fly by Matt Carpenter on a full count to make it 10-4.
To punctuate the misery, Ozuna lobbed a two-run double down the right field line that Phillip Ervin couldn’t catch and it was 12-4.
“It wasn’t a great game,” said Price, a master of understatement on this night. “We were in a one-run ball game after three innings. After the first game in Philly and a long game yesterday I needed the younger guys to come in and pitch tonight.
“It was inevitable they were going to pitch tonight and that’s not a bad thing,” said Price. “They have to come up here and contribute. They are part of a big league bullpen and they do have to pitch. They struggled to put the ball over the plate and that inning put the game out of reach.”
Meanwhile, the Reds didn’t put a runner on base for three innings after the third until Jose Peraza’s two-out double in the seventh.
And then there was the ultimate embarrassment for a baseball team. Infielder Cliff Pennington pitched the ninth inning for the Reds and gave up a run, a double and two walks, ending the inning by striking out Paul DeJong.
It was Pennington’s second voyage to the mound. He did it for Toronto in the 2015 post-season and remains the only position player ever to pitch in a post-season game.
“I just tried to throw strikes and I obviously wasn’t perfect because I walked a couple of guys,” said Pennington. “I was just trying to get out of the inning and get out of there.”
Price told Pennington late in the bottom of the eighth that he might pitch and Pennington threw only two warm-up pitches under the tunnel, “Because I didn’t want to waste any. And, yes, I iced my arm after the game.”