By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Milwaukee Brewers stumbled into town as forlorn as a baseball team possibly could be. They fled Chicago with a quick exodus Sunday night after losing four straight to the Chicago Cubs.
That wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was that they were shut out three times in Wrigley Field and scored two runs in the other loss. That’s two runs in 36 innings.
And they came to Great American Ball Park Monday night on a streak of batting in 20 straight innings without locating home plate.
The scoreless streak reached 23 innings before the Brewers solved their run malnutrition with a run in the fourth, two in the fifth and three in the seventh, enough to score a 6-5 victory over the Reds.
And it was evident in the bottom of the seventh when Milwaukee brought in left hander Josh Hader, a strikeout robot. The Brewers are 11-and-0 when he appears in a game. On this night he pitched 2 2/3 innings and gave up no runs, no hits, walked one and struck out eight, all eight outs he recorded were strikeouts.
Hader is the first pitcher in Major League history to strike out eight batters in less than three innings.
In order, he struck out Joey Votto, Scott Schlebler, Eugenio Suarez, (walked Tucker Barnhart), Alex Blandino, pinch-hitter Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, Jesse Winker and ended up the game by striking out Jose Peraza.
Eight outs, eight strikeouts. Not even Aroldis Chapman can claim that. In 18 innings Hader has struck out 39 and batters are swatting flies when they bat against him, an .070 average.
And it isn’t a 100 miles an hour fastball that shrivels hitters. The fast ball is 94, but it moves like a leaf in the wind.
Said Tucker Barnhart, the only batter Hader faced who didn’t strike out, “He has a real good fastball and he can pitch up in the zone. He makes you chase his heater and that makes his slider that much better. He has one of those high spin rates that you hear about. He is able to throw fastballs at the top of the zone and it seems to play harder than it shows on the radar gun.”
Manager Jim Riggleman was duly impressed by the 23-year-old left hander with long, flowing hair.
“You know, he has velocity, a good fastball and a good slider,” he said. “Some guys, even though it says 94 on the gun, and there are a lot of guys who throw 94, but some guys have a little extra hop at the end and hitters don’t pick it up quite as well. He has been this all year, well, at least for a month. That was really impressive.”
Suarez, was one of his eight victims after he earlier drove in four of the Reds five runs, was as impressed as all the rest.
“He throws a lot of fastballs and he has good movement,” said Suarez. “His mechanics make the ball move from down to up. You see it and you think it is going to be a ball but it is right there. He is nasty because of the movement and it is hard to pick the ball up out of his hand.”
For most of the early doldrums the Cincinnati Reds suffered to begin the season, Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler were incapacitated, spending more time swinging their legs on a trainer’s table than swinging a baseball bat.
That changed in recent days and with both Suarez and Schebler back in the lineup the Reds once again look as if they know which end of a bat to hold and swing in the batter’s box.
And because of those two, the Reds were poised to win Monday’s game, until Hader arrived on the scene.
Suarez drove in four of his team’s five runs with a two-run double in the fourth and a two-run single in the fifth. Schebler, batting ahead of Suarez, had hits both times to set up Suarez’s soiree.
“That’s huge (having Suarez and Schebler back in the lineup),” said Riggleman. “That’s two components of our lineup that were not there. Now they are and we are a little tougher to pitch to. We’re much deeper in our lineup with them in there.”
Manny Pina took care of Milwaukee’s run shortcoming in the fourth inning against Reds starter Brandon Finnegan, plowing a home run over the center field wall for a 1-0 Brewers lead.
The Reds took care of that lead in the fifth with two runs. Joey Votto was hit by a pitch, Schebler doubled him to third and Suarez doubled to left for two runs and a 2-1 Reds lead.
Another home run off Finnegan, this one a two-run shot by Lorenzo Cain after pitcher Jhoulys Chacin opened the fifth with a single, pushed the Brewers back in front, 3-2.
Billy Hamilton, batting ninth, started the Reds fifth with a double and Jesse Winker bunted safely for a hit. Jose Peraza drove in Hamilton with a sacrifice fly and with two outs Suarez singled up the middle for two more and a 5-4 lead.
Wandy Peralta took over in the seventh and quickly retired the first two Brewers. Then Wandy wandered and in the blink of a Brewer’ eye Milwaukee scored three runs and took the lead, 6-5.
Christian Yelich singled and Ryan Braun walked. Peralta ignored the baserunners and the Brewers not only pulled off a double steal, they scored a run when catcher Tucker Barnhart’s throw skipped into left field. Peralta walked Travis Shaw on a full count,
Jared Hughes replaced Peralta and his first pitch to Domingo Santana was driver over center fielder Billy Hamilton’s head for a two-run double and a 6-5 Brewers lead.
Then it was Hader Time and the Reds were rendered beyond helpless.