By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Is there any way the National League can amend the schedule and place the Cincinnati Reds against a first place team every night?
When the last place Reds play a first place team, it’s magic for the Reds.
With their second straight victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday night in Great American Ball Park, 6-3, the Reds are now 23-15 against first-place teams this season. And they’ve won 15 of their last 20 against first-place clubs.
Contrast that to their 13-and-17 record against last place and next-to-last place teams and it is a head-scratcher.
The Reds had to rescue Saturday night’s because they trailed, 3-2, going into the bottom of the eighth. Pinch-hitter Tucker Barnhart took care of that, though, with a two-out 3-and-2 two-run double off personal nemesis Archie Bradley to push the Reds in front, 4-3, and the Reds went on to score four runs.
When told about his team’s record against first place teams and bottom feeders, Barnhart said, “I didn’t know that and that’s pretty crazy. That’s just baseball and I don’t know if you can explain it. It’s a good sign because that’s ultimately where we want to get to. It shows us if we can beat first place teams, we sure as hell can beat last place teams. Good things are on the horizon and we are headed in the right direction.”
Manager Jim Riggleman wasn’t aware of the numbers, either, and said, “They are all trying to beat you and we’re sure trying to beat them. Maybe those teams take us for granted, who knows? You never get away with that, you have to get after it.
“That’s the great thing about these teams who win all those games — this year’s Boston Red Sox, The Big Red Machine — they took nothing for granted and beat everybody they are supposed to beat.”
Barnhart’s game-winning double was double jeopardy for him. He said Archie Bradley is difficult for him and pinch-hitting is difficult for him.
“I’ve had trouble against him since we played against each other in the minor leagues,” said Barnhart. “Whenever I face him it’s a battle and I’m sure my numbers are not good against him. He’s got me a lot more than I got him.”
But Barnhart got him at a big-time crucial moment.
“I was talking to him before the game when we were working out and I like him a lot,” Barnhart said. “I respect the hell out of him and he is a damn good pitcher. I even had trouble against him in the lower minors and I played against him a ton — when I was at Dayton and he was at South Bend, then he was at Mobile and Visalia. I’ve seen him every step of the way.”
“It’s hard,” said Barnhart. “It’s the hardest thing to do in this game, I think. It’s tough. You get into the flow of the game when you play and start the game. Coming off the bench is a little difficult, but it’s part of the game.”
Eugenio Suarez opened the bottom of the eighth by getting hit by a pitch, just as he did to begin the Reds’ fourth-inning two-run rally.
Representing the tying run, Suarez moved to second on Phillip Ervin’s chopper to third and stayed on second when Brandon Dixon struck out.
Bradley walked Curt Casali on four pitches to put the potential go-ahead run on first base as he faced pinch-hitter Tucker Barnhart. Bradley fell behind 3-and-1, leveled it at 3-and-2, Barnhart fouled off a 3-and-2 pitch and then crushed the D-Backs’ souls with his line drive double up the left center gap.
Manager Jim Riggleman stacked his with right handed bats to face Arizona left hander Robbie Ray.
With Joey Votto getting another night out of the starting lineup to give his sore left leg more time to heal, Scooter Gennett was the only left handed hitter in the Reds lineup.
It didn’t work as Riggleman hoped.
The Reds collected only a couple of runs and four hits off Ray during his five innings, but because Matt Harvey held the D-Backs to two runs and five hits over seven innings it was a standoff until the eighth inning.
That’s when usually reliable David Hernandez took the mound and gave up a one-out solo home run to Arizona leadoff hitter David Peralta, his 20th home run, to give the Diamondbacks a 3-2 lead.
After three innings at 0-0, the Diamondbacks made the first move when A.J. Pollock opened the fourth with a single and clean-up hitter Eduardo Escobar hit his first home run, an opposite-field drive over the right field wall for a 2-0 lead over Harvey.
The Reds drew even in the bottom of the fourth when Ray hit Eugenio Suarez with a pitch and he came around to score on Phillip Ervin’s double to the left field corner. Ervin then scored on Matt Harvey’s two-out bloop single to right, tying it, 2-2.
That’s where it stayed until Peralta’s eighth-inning home run, followed by the Reds four-run eruption in the bottom of the eighth.
Dilson Herrera made his professional debut in left field and, yes, the baseball found him quickly. Arizona leadoff hitter David Peralta blooped a ball into shallow left field and Herrera caught it.
And before the game, Riggleman said he hoped center fielder Billy Hamilton will chase down everything. Sure enough, Arizona’s No. 2 hitter, Paul Goldschmidt launched one to deep left center and Herrera gave chase. At the last instant, Herrera peeled off and let Hamilton do what he does so often — leap above the wall to snag and bring back what would have been a home run.
The ball, though, found him and not his glove with one out in the fifth inning. Pitcher Robbie Ray shot one down the left field line and Herrera tried for a diving backhand catch but the ball skipped past him to the wall for a double. Harvey saved him by retiring the next two.
Votto is expected back in the lineup for Sunday’s series finale. He started Friday’s game but left in the late innings.
“As the game went along last night, the longer he ws out there, running the bases, trying to play defense, we could see that it was bothering him,” said Riggleman. “We got him out of there and we’re confident we’ll have him in there (Sunday) and get this thing behind us. It is going to linger for a while.”
Votto pinch-hit in the bottom of the seventh against Arizona relief pitcher Archie Bradley when it was 2-2 with two outs and Billy Hamilton on first. When Hamilton stole second, the D-Backs intentionally walked Votto and Bradley retired Scooter Gennett on a bullet line drive to center field.
Votto, though, stayed in the game at first base and contributed a run-scoring single in the eighth inning.