By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — When it comes to facing Milwaukee’s Eric Thames, the Cincinnati Reds should roll the ball to home plate. Do not throw any pitch that he can reach with his baseball bat.
Reds relief pitcher Amir Garrett tried to sneak one past Thames in the seventh inning with two runners on base and the Reds leading by two runs. It was like trying to sneak a T-bone on a stick past a wolf’s nose.
Garrett already had given up two home runs to Thames in earlier games. Make it three.
Thames, as he has done time after time after time after time against the Reds the last two years, deposited the pitch into the right field seats, a three-run home run that provided the first place Brewers with a 6-4 victory Thursday night in Great American Ball Park.
Thames’ career numbers against the Reds are Babe Ruthian — 13 home runs (yes, 13 home runs in 21 games), 24 RBI and 14 walks. When he faces the Reds, he sees a brighter shade of red.
The Reds led, 4-2, when starter Anthony Desclafani began the seventh inning. With one out he walked Erik Kratz on four pitches and gave up a single to Orlando Arcia.
That’s when manager Jim Riggleman brought in Garrett. He retired pinch-hitter Eric Sogard on a pop-up for the second out. That brought up Thames and he cranked a 2-and-0 pitch into the great beyond to push the Brewers in front, 5-4.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen one guy do to one team what Thames has done to us,” said Riggleman. “How many did he hit against us last year?”
“And how many has he hit this year?”
“And he hasn’t played that much (12 at bats this year),” said Riggleman. “That’s 13 and, yeah, I know he has hit Amir, but I felt good with Amir in there. He missed his first two pitches to go 2-and-0 and he needed to throw a strike and Thames was ready for it.
“I always feel good with Amir out there, but I’ll tell you, Thames has really done damage against us and we haven’t had an answer for him. He has really hurt us and it is to the point where you just have to tip your cap to him.”
The Reds scored four run in the first three innings, then nothing more. Jose Peraza led the bottom of the first with his second home run in two days, Tucker Barnhart doubled and Eugenio Suarez doubled him home for a 2-0 first-inning lead.
The Brewers tied it 2-2 in the third on Keon Broxton’s infield hit and a home run by Jesus Aguilar that wrapped around the left field foul pole and landed in the front row.
The Reds reclaimed the lead, 4-2, in the bottom of the third on another double by Suarez and Jesse Winker’s opposite field home run that narrowly cleared the left field wall.
But that was it for the Reds. Milwaukee starter Junior Guerra left after six innings and the Brewers bullpen took over. It is a legitimate bullpen — not one like the Reds faced in Atlanta that couldn’t get anybody out.
Jeremy Jeffress struck out the side in the eighth and closer Corey Knebel gave up a one-out single in the ninth to Billy Hamilton but struck out two, closing the game by striking out Tucker Barnhart.
“They have a good bullpen and their starter gave them the innings (six) they needed,” said Riggleman. “They got us. They are a good ballclub and part of having a good ballclub is having a good bullpen.”
Desclafani, making his fifth start since coming off the disabled list, held the Brewers to two runs and five hits over 6 1/3 innings.
“Both clubs had two-run homers early in the game that were wall-scrapers just behind the left field wall (Aguilar, Winker),” said Riggleman. “It was a hot muggy night and Disco walked a batter on four pitches and Arcia got the hit in the seventh. He probably had enough ammo to continue but we felt it was time to get him out. He gave us a chance to win. He has done that each time he has gone out there.”
And for the second straight game Joey Votto’s had some issues at home plate. On Wednesday in Atlanta he was ejected in the first inning for arguing a strike three call.
On Thursday, he started toward first base on a 3-and-1 pitch, believing it was ball four. Rookie umpire Roberto Ortiz called it strike two. Votto had no issues with Ortiz, but Milwaukee catcher Erik Kratz said something to Votto and they began jawing. The benches cleared and gathered near home plate for some general milling around without so much as a push or a shove. Later in the game Kratz walked and he and Votto talked amiably around the bag.
The game was Cincinnati’s 81st, the halfway mark for the season. After a 3-and-18 start, the Reds are 31-and-29.
“We certainly feel good about from where we’ve come,” said Riggleman. “Tonight was a very good ballgame, but a tough loss.”
It was made tough by Eric the Reds-killer.