By Hal McCoy
CINCINNATI — With the way the Cincinnati Reds are playing back seat baseball these days, it is no wonder they are treated like Rodney Dangerfield.
As rain pounded Great American Ball Park Sunday afternoon, delaying the game’s start, somebody associated with the St. Louis Cardinals said, “We’re hoping this game gets rained out so we can pitch Carlos Martinez in Chicago tomorrow.”
The message was that the Cardinals would rather pitch their ace against the more potent Chicago Cubs than waste him against the moribund Reds.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, and even more unfortunately for the Reds, the rain subsided and the game began after a 2-hour, 36-minute delay.
And Martinez took the mound and waded through the Reds like a John Deere tractor bowing down weeds.
He held the Reds to no runs and two hits over seven innings, striking out 11, en route to a 3-2 victory that the Reds nearly pulled out.
And the dismal slide continues for the Reds. They were swept in the four-game series, they’ve lost eight in a row and they are 2-and-13 to start the season.
Martinez retired 11 of the last 12 Reds he faced, hitting Phillip Ervin, the next-to-last batter he faced, with a pitch. But he then ended the seventh inning by striking out pinch-hitter Phil Gosselin.
It was Jackie Robinson Day, with everybody wearing Robinson’s No. 42, but right now not even Robinson at his best could help the Reds these days.
And once again Homer Bailey pitched his heart out and received no offensive support,dropping his record to 0-and-3 when with any support at all he could be 2-and-1.
Bailey became the first Reds starting pitcher to make it into the seventh inning, then left for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth.
He gave up three runs on four hits with two walks and four strikeouts, placing his earned run average at 3.42, far too good for a guy sporting an undeserved 0-and-3 record.
His only real mistake came in the second inning when he gave up a two-out, two-run home run to Harrison Bader, hitting .143 at the time. It was the 26th home run given up by Reds pitching in 15 games this season, seven more than the team with the next most home runs given up.
“Homer was very acute with his location, just very, very good,” said manager Bryan Price. “He is The Guy, our guy to come in as our No. 1 and perform to take the load off some of our young guys. He gave us a chance to win, pitched winning baseball in a game we lost and that’s unfortunate.”
Of Martinez, Price said, “He reminded me a lot of Johnny Cueto with a lot of different arm angles, different speeds, different shapes on his breaking pitches. We had a lot of young guys in the lineup and he was just too much for us.”
The Cardinals scored a run in the seventh when Jose Martinez doubled on a live drive narrowly missed by diving center fielder Billy Hamilton and a single off the center field wall by Yadier Molina.
Amazingly, after Martinez left, the Cardinals inserted left hander Tyler Lyons into the game for the eighth and Billy Hamilton homered into the left field stands on the first pitch, Hamilton’s 500th career hit.
Kolten Wong then made a throwing error on Jose Peraza’s ground ball and the Reds had a threat materializing. But struggling Joey Votto broke his bat and grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
The Reds mounted a major threat in the bottom of the ninth against St. Louis closer Bud Norris. Adam Duvall led the ninth with a home run, cutting the lead to 3-2.
With the Cardinals in a full-blown shift to the right, Tucker Barnhart pushed a bunt toward third. Not only did he beat it for a hit, but he was awarded second base after a replay review revealed third baseman Greg Garcia’s throw went out of play.
That put pinch—runner Jesse Winker, the potential tying run, on second base with no outs.
Alas, it was another mirage. Alex Blandino couldn’t put down a bunt and struck out and Phillip Ervin took a third strike for the second out.
Pinch-hitter Devin Mesoraco was hit by a pitch, a pitch that was challenged by the Cardinals and reviewed in New York. The hit by pitch was confirmed.
That brought up Billy Hamilton in a do-or-die situation. He and the Reds died when Hamilton lined hard to left field.
“That was a game we could have won,” said Price. “We needed to come up with a big hit and Billy did smoke that ball to left field (that was caught to end the game. We needed to get a bunt down (Blandino) and put the ball in play (Ervin), but we didn’t do it. We did show some fight there at the end.”
On the positive side, relief pitcher Amir Garrett once again was nearly perfect in his bid to push his way into the starting rotation. He pitched 1 2/3 innings and gave up no runs on one hit with two strikeouts, leaving his earned run average at 0.00.