By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds became baseball’s first 20-game losers this year and it took them only 25 games to accomplish it.
With a 7-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves Wednesday afternoon in Great American Ball Park, the Reds fell to 5-and-20. And after winning the first two of this four-game series, the Reds kicked away a chance to win their first series of the year.
There was a soul-lifting time midway through the game when the Reds came from 4-0 behind to tie the game, 4-4, in the fifth inning.
The tie was achieved when Joey Votto hit his third home run in three games, after hitting none in the first 22 games. It was a three-run rip that crash-landed on the center field lawn.
But it all was punctured when the Braves scored two runs in the eighth inning against Wandy Peralta.
Votto is at a loss for descriptive terms for his sudden blossoming home runs and for his team’s predicament.
Asked about the home runs, Votto said, “I’m just not missing. . .I think, uh. . .it is just hitting works out sometimes. I felt like I’ve been turning in the right direction. They just weren’t showing up in the game. . .yeah. . .that’s just how the game works out sometimes.”
Votto was more of a loss to talk about whether, despite the losses in the last two games, the bats were thawing out.
“Momentum? Yeah, we have to (think that way). We don’t have a choice,” he said. “Uh. . .you know. . .uh. . .you know if. . .you know. I don’t know, we’ve clearly. . .uh. . .I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that.”
Said manager Jim Riggleman, a man chasing rainbows and pots of gold, “A lot of good things happened for us in this game. Unfortunately we came up short again. We don’t accept coming up short but in three of the four ball games we were down by as many as four runs and in every one of those we came back to tie or go ahead.”
The Reds clearly had no answer for Freddie Freeman and a couple other Atlanta hitters.
Freeman started the eighth inning against Peralta with a double, his third double of the game. And he broke the tie by scoring on Ronald Acuna’s bloop double to right field.
For the four-game series Freeman had eight hits, three doubles, two homers, scored five and drove in two.
And the Reds were done in by the two youngest player in the majors — 20-year-old Ronald Acuna and 21-year-old Ozzie Albies.
Acuna, called up from Triple-A on Wednesday, helped construct Atlanta’s early lead by hitting a monstrous home run off Homer Bailey, a drive that bent the metal seats in the left field upper deck, 416 feet from home plate.
Albies, all 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds of him, drove a home run off Bailey in the top of the fifth, his eighth home run this season. And it came right after Bailey gave up a one-out single to opposing pitcher Sean Newcomb.
The Albies home run pushed Atlanta in front, 4-0, setting up the Reds comeback.
Bailey was not at his best and pitched five innings, giving up four runs and seven hits that included the two home runs.
Atlanta’s Newcomb was on speed dial for four innings — no runs, two hits and six strikeouts.
But with one out in the fifth, Alex Blandino singles and Phil Gosselin, batting for Bailey, walked. Newcomb also walked Billy Hamilton on four pitches, he of the .173 batting average.
That filled the bases with one out when Jose Peralta grounded to third, a possible inning-ending double play. But Peraza beat the throw at first as Blandino scored.
Votto then unloaded, clearing the center field wall for the three-run rip that tied it, 4-4.
But Peralta couldn’t hold it.
Amazingly, with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth and the Braves leading, 7-4, relief pitcher Arodys Vizcaino gave up a double to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker and walked pinch-hitter Scooter Gennett. That brought up pinch-hitter Tucker Barnhart as the potential tying run, but he flied to left to end it.
“Two-out hits today particularly hurt us,” said Riggleman, referring to five of Atlanta’s runs coming with two outs. “Peralta was throwing the ball outstanding and gave up that flare down the right field line. There was nothing he could do about that. He made a heck of a pitch.”
That was the excuse-me opposite-field bloop to right hit by Acuna with two outs that scored Freeman, the tie-breaking run that gave the Braves the 5-4 lead. “It was in no-man’s land and that was it.” Right fielder Scott Schebler, second baseman Alex Blandino and first baseman Joey Votto converged on the spot, but the ball found the grass instead of a glove.