By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — It isn’t what anybody would call a lofty goal, or any goal at all, but the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night matched the snail’s start of the 1955 team, something that happened 63 years ago.
With their sixth straight loss, a 5-3 decision to the St. Louis Cardinals in Great American Ball Park, the Reds are 2-and-11 for the season, the worst start by a Reds team since that 1955 team accomplished it with players like Ted Kluszewski, Wally Post, Gus Bell, Johnny Temple and Roy McMillan.
For those trusting history to repeat itself, the 1955 team did win it’s 14th game to go 3-and-11 and it did put together winning records in May and June and finished the season only four games under .500.
At this point, one can only fantasize.
It was an interesting night for young Reds pitcher Tyler Mahle.
—The first time through the Cardinals batting order he gave up one run and two hits and struck out five.
—The second time through the lineup he gave up no runs and two hits and didn’t strike out anybody.
—The third time through the lineup — well, he didn’t make it past one-third of an inning. In the sixth inning he gave up a home run, a single, a double, a single and another single. That was four runs and five hits through six batters.
Mahle, a hard-liner when it comes to defending his performance, insisted his stuff in the sixth was the same as it was the first three innings.
“Did I still have my stuff in the sixth? Yeah, definitely,” he said “They hit some good pitches that hurt me and ended up hitting the bad ones, too. They didn’t do that early in the game like they did in the sixth. It all just blew up.”
Catcher Devin Mesoraco brought up the Third Time Through the Order theme.
“I thought Tyler pitched, really, really well,” said Mesoraco. “A veteran team like that, the third time through the order, they made some adjustments and were able to get the barrel to the ball.”
Through five innings, the only damage done to Mahle was a second-inning home run by Yadier Molina. And it stayed 1-0 until Dexter Fowler led the fateful sixth with a home run.
The home run ball is the scourge of the Reds pitching staff. In 13 games the opposition has hit 23 home runs, by far the most in the Majors (Colorado is second with 18 given up).
Meanwhile, the Reds offense was dormant for six innings. The first hit off Luke Weaver came in the fifth inning, an infield hit to shortstop that was so close at first base that a nearly three-minute review was needed to make certain he wasn’t out.
The second hit also was an infield hit, a ball tapped about 15 feet up the third base line that Billy Hamilton beat.
The bats rattled a bit in the seventh when Scooter Gennett singles and Mesoraco homered, cutting the St. Louis lead to 5-2 and knocking Weaver out of the game.
The Reds crept a step closer in the eighth when Billy Hamilton walked, Jose Peraza bunted him to second and Joey Votto drove him home with a single to left, cutting the St. Louis advantage to 5-3. Alas, Votto was caught day-dreaming at first base and was picked off to end the inning.
The Cardinals loaded the bases in the top of the ninth, but couldn’t score. The Reds put the potential tying runs on second and first with one out. But Alex Blandino, who got his first major league hit in his previous at bat, struck out. Pinch-hitter Tucker Barnhart took a called third strike that appeared high-and-outside to end it and the beat down continues.
And manager Bryan Price was not pleased with umpire Angel Hernandez’s strike three call on Barnhart to end the game.
“That last pitch on Tucker was a ball,” said Price. “That would have made it 3-and-2 and we would have put the runners in motion on the next pitch and a lot of things could have happened.”
And isn’t it about time Cincinnati fans quit booing Molina for something that happened eight years ago — his shoving match at home plate with Brandon Phillips in 2010.
Ever since, Reds fans have booed Molina lustily every time he pops his bleached-blond head above the dugout. And Molina responds by using his bat as a dagger.
He homered, singled and drove in two runs Thursday in a 13-4 win. On Friday he homered and singled to drive in three runs.
To make the night another head-on crash for the Reds, they lost another player. Outfielder Jesse Winker was in the lineup but was removed at game time due to right shoulder soreness, joining Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler on the incapacitated list.
“We have to keep chipping away when we’re down,” said Mesoraco. “For the most part we’ve done a decent job of that, but you have to continue to battle.
“We’re just not playing good baseball, in general,” Mesoraco added. “Not pitching, not playing good defense, not hitting. Losing Geno (Suarez) and Scheb (Schebler) is an issue, but it gives other guys opportunities. When you are in that situation you have to step up and take advantage. We just have to play better.”
So far, much easier said than done.