By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The t-shirt under Jesse Winker’s uniform top was emblazoned with, “Beat Crohn’s,” an admirable message at any time and at any place.
But when he stepped to home plate Thursday, the late afternoon shadows closing in inside Great American Ball Park, his message was different than the great one on his t-shirt.
His thoughts: “Beat left handed pitcher Chris Rusin. Beat the Colorado Rockies.
And that’s exactly what he did with one swing of the bat. The score was tied in the bottom of the 13th inning and he reversed Rusin’s fastball into the right field stands for a walk-off game-winning two-run home run.
It lifted the Reds to a 7-5 victory in a game during which the Reds trailed, 5-2, after seven innings.
And as part of the four-man outfield platoon, Winker didn’t start this game, didn’t enter this game until the eighth inning. He batted three times and produced three hits, including the biggest of the day.
It was his first walk-off hit of his short major league career and he loved the Gatorade and water bath his teammates gave him at home plate.
“A very fun day and a very fun win, for sure,” said Winker after his second home run of the season. “Whenever your name is called upon, you just want to hit the ball hard and contribute. Coming around third and seeing them waiting for you is the best scene.”
His first at bat was in the eighth and he singled in the middle of a two-run rally that brought the Reds from 5-2 down to 5-4. He had an infield hit to deep shortstop leading off the 11th but didn’t score.
Then came the 13th.
Joey Votto began the inning by getting hit by a pitch and Eugenio Suarez flied to center. So there was one out when Winker planted his feet in the home plate rectangle.
“He threw me a fastball away, a slider and I thought he might go with a fastball and I just wanted to put a good swing on it,” said Winker.
Of Winker’s late cameo and ultra-successful appearance manager Jim Riggleman said, “That’s our message to our guys. We have an outfielder sitting every day. But almost every day they get in the ball game. This thing about I’m out of whack because I’m not playing every day, well, you pretty much are. You are not sitting that much. He came off the bench and was ready to help us.”
It wasn’t help, it was major liftoff.
For seven innings and nearly 2 1/2 hours, Winker did nothing but stretch in between innings, “And you are watching the game, trying to get a feel for when the opportunity might come. They communicate very well with us and when they’re ready for me I get ready down in the cage under the stands. When called upon, you go in and play.”
Riggleman, desperate for any kind of offensive production, placed outfielder Scott Schebler in the leadoff spot, the spot normally occupied by Winker when he plays.
It was a gutsy move, especially considering that the left handed Schebler was facing left handed pitcher Tyler Anderson.
As far as the Schebler move is concerned, it worked like a new car coming off the showroom floor. Schebler had two singles and a run-scoring double.
Schebler came into the game dragging a noisy bat — a six-game hitting streak with four two-hit games (10-22, .455, three homers, four RBI, five runs scored).
What Riggleman probably didn’t know is that in limited leadoff activity Schebler has been successful for the Reds. He had batted there 23 times with eight hits (.348), four home runs, eight RBI and seven runs scored.
Reds starter Tyler Mahle did what most Reds starting pitchers are doing these days — five and fly. He pitched five innings and gave up three runs (two earned), six hits, two walks and struck out six. Meanwhile, Colorado starter Anderson chugged through seven innings and held the Reds to two runs and five hits.
Jose Peraza was given the day off and Alex Blandino was playing shortstop. Sure enough, the first ball hit was right at Blandino by D.J. LeMahieu. Blandino’s throw to first pulled Joey Votto off the bag for an error.
LeMahieu took third on Charlie Blackmon’s single and scored while Nolan Arenado rolled into a double play.
The Reds tied it, 1-1, in the second when Adam Duvall singled and came around to score on catcher Curt Casali’s double to left field.
The Rockies scored a run in the third and another in the fourth and it was 3-1. LeMahieu doubled in the third and scored on a line drive two-strike single by Carlos Gonzalez. Mike Tauchman doubled in the fourth and scored on pitcher Tyler Anderson’s suicide squeeze bunt.
The Reds pulled within one in the fifth on pinch-hitter Michael Lorenzen’s single and a double by Scott Schebler.
It only lasted until Colorado came to bat in the sixth and scored two against relief pitcher Amir Garrett. Two non-regulars playing while the regulars rested, combined to score both runs. Mike Tauchman singled and scored on Ryan McMahon’s triple, then McMahon scored on a sacrifice fly that pushed Colorado’s lead to 5-2.
The frustration level reached fever pitch in the eighth when the Reds filled the bases with no outs and scored only two runs, both on ground balls by Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez, leaving the Reds 5-4 behind.
And the inning ended when pinch-hitter Winker singled to right field and Suarez tried to score from second. Right fielder Carlos Gonzalez, who does everything imaginable to beat the Reds and then some, threw Suarez out at home plate, obliterating the Reds attempt to tie the game and ending the inning.
Colorado closer Wade Davis arrived on the scene for the ninth and promptly hit Reds catcher Curt Casali with a 2-and-2 pitch, putting the potential tying run on first base. Brandon Dixon struck out and Jose Peraza poked a single to left. Both runners moved up a base on a wild pitch — potential tying run at third and winning run at second. Billy Hamilton struck out. And then it was Schebler’s turn with a chance to make it a big, big day personally. Amazingly, with two strikes, Davis threw one in the dirt for a wild pitch that tied the game, 5-5.
But the Reds rescued it.
“We won the ball game and we played hard,” said Riggleman. “We played hard the last few nights, but didn’t play good, but we played hard. Today we played hard and we played good and we won the ball game.
“Our blip on the screen was Amir Garrett gave up a couple of runs and he has been doing a good job for us,” Riggleman added. “But we had nine innings of relief pitching who only gave up a couple of runs and we’ll take that.”
After Garrett gave up two in the sixth, Wandy Peralta, Jared Hughes and Raisel Iglesias pitched scoreless innings, with Iglesias striking out the side. Dylan Floro finished it off with three scoreless innings and was rewarded with the win.