By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — When it comes to baseball games decided by two or fewer runs this season, the Cincinnati Reds are in a dark cave covered by a deep fog.
They briefly poked their heads out of the abyss Saturday afternoon in Game One of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs.
After closer Raisel Iglesias blew a two-run lead, a save situation in the eighth inning, Billy Hamilton drew a base-loaded walk in the bottom of the 11th inning, a walk-off walk to give the Reds a 5-4 victory.
The Reds are now 7-and-23 in games decided by two or less runs — 1-and-6 in shutouts, 3-and-9 in one-run games and 3-and-8 in two-run games.
The sixth shutout was administered by the Cubs in Game Two, a 10-0 annihilation during which the Reds’ total offense consisted of three singles. Starter Sal Romano gave up seven runs, six hits and six walks in five innings.
In Game One, left hander Justin Wilson, the Cubs seventh pitcher, faced four Reds in the 11th and didn’t record an out. He walked Scott Schebler to open the inning, gave up a single to Tucker Barnhart, walked Adam Duvall to fill the bases and walked Hamilton on a 3-and-1 count to end the game.
With Hamilton batting, the Cubs employed a five-man infield, sticking an outfielder in the infield, but when the pitcher issues a walk an eight-man infield doesn’t help.
“It’s tough when you see a five-man infield and you see two men up the middle,” said Hamilton. “You start thinking too much. You think, ‘I have to do something different.’ Then I thought I just had to relax and hope he gives me something I can hit.”
He never did. Even the 2-and-0 pitch Hamilton swung at was outside the strike zone. But he held off on the next two and Wilson walked it off for the Reds.
There was some extra spice mixed into this one when Reds pitcher Amir Garrett shoveled some payback verbiage at Cubs second baseman Javier Baez, which touched off some GMA — generally milling around by both teams with no damage done and no punches thrown.
There was a game last year when Baez hit a home run off Garrett and did the bat-tossing, hands-up, stand-and-watch routine so popular these days when player hit home runs.
So when Garrett struck out Baez to end the seventh inning Saturday, Garrett aimed some pointed words at Baez and stared him down. Baez took umbrage and walked toward the mound. Both teams met on the first base line but no real scrums developed and nobody was ejected.
“I play the game with a lot of emotion and, you know, it is always high when you play the Cubs,” said Garrett. “I love Javier Baez as a player, I love the way he plays the game. But if you are going to dish it, you have to take it, too. That’s just how it goes. No hard feelings. It’s over.”
Asked about the home run Baez hit off him and his celebratory reaction, Garrett said, “That’s how the game goes. He got me then I got him now. We’re even and we’ll have plenty more meetings. He is flashy and I love that.”
Riggleman’s take on the Garrett-Baez staredown was definitely old school.
“Amir showed some emotion with the strikeout and Baez didn’t like it,” he said. “In today’s world there is a lot of that going on. Back in the day, you wouldn’t dare do it. Today it is more commonplace.
The Cubs dug their deep ditch early in the game against Reds starter Luis Castillo. He gave up six hits and five walks in five innings, but only one run because the Cubs stranded 10 runners in the first six innings and 14 for the game.
The Reds broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth with two runs. One scored on Scooter Gennett’s single and another on Eugenio Suarez’s double to make it 4-2.
That’s the way it stood until manager Jim Riggleman brought in Ol’ Reliable, closer Raisel Iglesias, in the eighth inning. Iglesias was on the straight-and-narrow, nine straight appearances without allowing a run and four saves in his last four appearances.
On this day he wasn’t up to it. He was distressed over the early strikes-and-balls calls by umpire Pat Hoberg, visibly upset. So he dished up a 3-and-2 fastball to the first batter he faced, Ian Happ, and he ripped it over the left field wall.
The Reds still led, 4-3, but pinch-hitter Tony La Stella followed Happ’s home run with a full count single. Iglesias retired the next two, but Anthony Rizzo doubled home La Stella to tie it, 4-4, and Iglesias’ blown save was complete.
After Wandy Peralta pitched a perfect inning, Dylan Floro pitched the final two innings — six up and six down. That gained him his first major league win and it came against the Cubs, the team he pitched for last year.
“That’s awesome, just a great experience to happen like that,” said Floro. “I’m excited, still trying to catch my breath. I was with the Cubs last year and they are a great organization and I appreciate them, but it is always nice to get a ‘W’ against them when you aren’t with them any more.”
Floro has been a found lucky charm for Riggleman and has earned Riggleman’s trust. He is used in any and all situations — long relief, middle relief, and late in games.
He has not allowed a run in 10 of his 12 appearances and has retired the first batter in nine of his 12 assignments.
“I’ve been in every situation, trying to take advantage and just prove that I can come into any situation,” he said. “I am a bullpen guy and I’m ready for anything and everything. I’m trying to prove I can do it.”
Of the trust Riggleman is putting on him, Floro said, “Yes, he has put me in some high-level situations and that’s a great feeling for me. Last year with the Cubs I just came in when we were down a lot of runs. But to get into games when you are battling for a ‘W’ is a great feeling and it is a different feeling for me.”
Said Riggleman, “He has been real good in various situations, mostly pitching early in games and giving us length. But we had to save a couple of guys today for the second game of the doubleheader, so nobody else was going to pitch. It was his game the rest of the way and he did a great job.”
The Cubs have taken two of the first three in this series that concludes Sunday afternoon. The Reds dropped Friday’s opener, 8-1, and posted three hits. During the 29 innings of the first three games the Cubs have had runners on base in 27 of those innings.