By HAL McCOY
For those still paying attention, and judging from the ocean of empty seats in Great American Ball Park Thursday night not many are, the Cincinnati Reds have been eliminated from winning the National League Central.
And they are playing like it.
After taking two of three from the St. Louis Cardinals, the Reds lost three straight in Pittsburgh, playing like the last place team that they are.
Then the San Diego Padres came calling, the last place team in the National League West and lugging a 55-86 record (worst in the National League), worse than the Reds’ 59-81 record.
With Luis Castillo on the mound, it figured to be a good night for the Reds. In his previous start in St. Louis, Castillo held the Cardinals to no runs and two hits while striking out 11 in 6 2/3 innings.
On this night, the Padres were not the Cardinals and they ripped Castillo for three home runs and recorded a 6-2 victory, Cincinnati’s 12th loss in 15 games.
In the first four innings Castillo gave up five runs that included three home runs, two by rookie Francisco Mejia, his first two major league home runs after he was called up from the minors just two days ago.
Castillo has given up 27 home runs this season, one shy of the most by any National League pitcher.
Castillo’s opponent was 23-year-old Eric Lauer, a Kent State University product and Elyria, Ohio native.
Lauer held the Reds to no runs and two hits over four innings and, amazingly, was taken out of the game despite striking out eight in those four innings.
His downfall was too many pitches in the fourth inning. He gave up a leadoff single to Jose Peralta. He then went to 3-and-2 on four straight batters. He walked Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez on full counts to fill the bases with no outs.
And the Reds didn’t score.
Lauer struck out Phillip Ervin on a full count and struck out Scott Schebler on a full count. Dilson Herrera lined one hard to left field and Hunter Renfroe saved two runs for sure, maybe three, with a diving, rolling catch.
Castillo gave up a home run to Mejia in the third and a one-out home run Hunter Renfroe in the fourth. Eric Hosmer followed Renfroe’s home run with a single.
Wil Myers hit a ground ball to short, a possible inning-ending double play, but Jose Peraza booted it for an error, putting two on with one out.
Castillo struck out Franmil Reyes for the second out and Reyes broke his bat in half over his knee. But Mejia followed with his second home run, a three-run bolt, and it was 5-0.
Castillo’s night lasted only five innings and he was hit for five runs (two earned), five hits, no walks and he struck out seven, but gave up the three home runs.
The Reds had only three hits through six innings, all three by Jose Peraza, all three singles.
The run drought for the Reds ended in the seventh with a pair of bases empty home runs by Scott Schebler and pinch-hitter Mason Williams. Schebler’s home run traveled 449 feet and narrowly missed the Toyota sign in right center that would have given a fan a new Toyota Tundra pickup truck.
Craig Stammen, a University of Dayton product from North Star, near Versailles, Oh., pitched a 1-2-3 inning eighth, perhaps trying to impress the Reds, a team he grew up rooting for and wishing that some day he will wear a Reds uniform.