By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — For the second straight night the Cincinnati Reds used basically the same heart-palpitating script while trying to win back-to-back games against the St. Louis Cardinals — get no hits for two-thirds of the game, fall behind, then win in walk-off fashion.
It worked Monday night but it failed on Tuesday night.
.On Monday night it was Cincinnati pinch-hitter Dilson Herrera’s bases-loaded two-out single in the ninth that scored the winning run as the Reds walked off with a 2-1 victory.
On Tuesday night the Reds took the game into the 11th inning before Dexter Fowler hit a two-run home run off Amir Garrett to push the Cardinals to a 4-2 victory.
No matter the outcome of Wednesday’s extended affair in Great American Ball Park, the most significant event was the return to the mound by Reds pitcher Homer Bailey, his first big league appearance since May 28. And what he did was the most important thing that happened on the field this night.
Bailey started the game by striking out the side and used that as a launching pad to an outstanding evening. He pitched 6 2/3 innings and gave up two runs and five hits, while walking two and striking out eight during a 115-pitch performance.
When he left in the seventh inning, the fickle fans who love to boo him gave him a high-decibel ovation as he trudged to the dugout, a triumphant return to success and good graces.
Perhaps most impressed of all was Reds manager Jim Riggleman, especially with Bailey throwing 21 first-pitch strikes to the 26 batters he faced.
“First pitch strikes? That’s something you’re taught since ‘A’ ball,” said Bailey. “You try to get ahead and once you get ahead you can expand the strike zone and good results happen because of that.” Yes, first-pitch strikes are taught everywhere, but easier said than done.
“That was one of the best starts we’ve had from anybody all year,” said Riggleman “The 10 strikeouts he had in the minors leagues was perhaps an indication that he was getting his slider refined and he got a lot of swings and misses with it.”
It certainly gives optimism to what lies ahead for Bailey.
“Optimistic? Very much,” said Riggleman. “The way Matt Harvey was throwing for four or five starts in a row and then Homer does that. Veteran guys throwing like that is very encouraging. We look forward to running him out there again and hopefully he takes that same stuff out there.”
As usual, Bailey was short-worded and clipped during his post-game media scrum. When told that Riggleman called it one of the best starts by any pitcher this year he said, “Some of our young guys have thrown well and Matt (Harvey) has been throwing really well,” he said “It’s hard to single one out, but it is nice to get compliments like that from your manager. Sure, thanks.”
So is Bailey optimistic about what lies ahead for him?
“Yeah, I think so,” he said “It’s over now. Tomorrow I’ll go look at the tape to see what mistakes I made. Then I’ll keep plugging away. I’d rather us get a win, of course. We had a couple of pitches working that we were able to get some swings and misses. We only had a few that did any damage.”
Interim St. Louis Cardinal manager Mike Shildt, on the job for little more than a week, must wonder, “What’s a guy need to do to win a baseball game?”
For the second straight night, Shildt had to make a critical decision while one of his young pitchers was throwing a no-hitter.
On Monday, Daniel Poncedeleon, making his major league debut, pitched seven no-hit innings against the Reds, but after 116 pitches Shildt decided enough was enough and removed him, even though his no-hitter was intact.
The Cardinals led 1-0 going into the ninth and with two outs Eugenio Suarez homered to tie it, then pinch-hitter Dilson Herrera poked a bases-loaded single for a walk-off 2-1 victory.
Fast forward to Tuesday night and rookie Austin Gomber, making his major league starting debut, took a no-hitter and a two-run lead into the seventh inning.
Shildt nearly removed him when it was his turn to bat in the top of the seventh but changed his mind when the batter before Gomber, Yairo Munoz, doubled to give the Cardinals a two-run lead.
So Gomber took his no-hitter to the mound for the seventh and as he warmed up the stadium fire alarm system began blaring and play was halted for seven minutes while a malfunctioning detector was fixed.
When play resumed Scooter Gennett nearly hit one out of the park, but it was caught in deep center. Joey Votto then broke up the no-hitter by lobbing a single to right.
Then it was deja vu all over again with Suarez. Another home run, another tie game. This one was a two-run shot into the left field seats, his 21st home run of the season.
Unfortunately for the Reds, they couldn’t walk-it-off on this night. They put the first two runners on base in the bottom of the 10th but Curt Casali bunted into a force play at third base, pinch-hitter Tucker Barnhart flied to center and Billy Hamilton lined to right. That left the score at 2-2, setting up Fowler’s two-run home run in the 11th.
Jose Peraza led the bottom of the 11th with a single and reached second on an error. Joey Votto took a called third strike for the second out. That brought up Suarez, who hit his home run Monday off Norris. The Cardinals walked Suarez intentionally, putting the potential tying run on base. It worked. Adam Duvall popped to shallow left to end it.
The top three batters in the Reds order went 2-for-15 — Peraza 1 for 5, Scooter Gennett 0 for 5, Joey Votto 1 for 5.
“He (Gomber) was really good, but finally we got to him,” Riggleman said about the St. Louis starter. It was a bullpen game and our bullpen did a pretty good job. But Fowler is a good player and he stuck one out there (the home run off Garrett). We came up short and we haven’t got going offensively yet (since the All-Star break).”