By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — This is how it is supposed to happen to players wearing a Cincinnati uniform after the Reds rescue them off the scrap heap, unceremoniously discarded by their previous team.
And so much the better when it happens on Opening Day in front 44,049, largest regular-season crowd in Great American Ball Park’s 16-year life.
Derek Dietrich and Jose Iglesias, two players who fit snugly into that description were the big players in the Reds’ 5-3 Opening Day victory Thursday in Great American Ball Park.
Both were tossed out the back doors of their previous team, where Reds general manager Nick Krall was ready with open arms, contracts in one hand, pen in the other.
Dietrich, picked up late this spring after he was released by the Miami Marlins, strode from the dugout in the seventh inning of a tie game and quickly, in his first at bat in a Reds uniform, untied it by belting a three-run home run that landed into next week to give the Reds a three-run lead.
And then there was Iglesias, released by the Detroit Tigers and picked up late this spring by the Reds as bench strength. But when Scooter Gennett was injured, Jose Peraza was moved from shortstop to second base and Iglesias anchored himself at shortstop.
What did he do on Opening Day? He had two doubles, drove in the game’s first run and was on base when Dietrich emptied them.
And is Peraza fretting about his switch of venues? Well, he singled and scored the game’s first run on Iglesias’ single and he led the seventh by tying the game with a home run that set up Dietrich’s three-run rip.
After Dietrich’s game-decider, the fans demanded a curtain call and he obliged, at the urging of his teammates. And when he stepped back on the field he tugged at the Reds logo on his chest.
“I’ve never had a curtain call and I’ve only ever seen one on my side,” said Dietrich. “I was taking it all in with the guys and they were saying, ‘Get up there, get up there.’
“For me to experience something like that on my first day in the organization, with this city, and everything I’ve heard about this city’s passion for baseball,” he added. “I don’t think I could have written up any better.”
Who could and who could make it believable?
His face lit up as he rounded first base and he said he was thinking, “Thank you, Lord, and thanks for the opportunity. I couldn’t wait to get to the dugout with the guys and celebrate it.”
Dietrich was born and raised in Cleveland, an Ohio guy who attended St. Ignatius High School. And there was a purpose for him to grab the Reds logo on his curtain call.
“I knew I was doing it. Really. I’m thankful and blessed to be here,” he said. “I’m right where I want to be, right where I’m supposed to be, right with the Cincinnati Reds.”
There were screams and shouts of dismay heard on both sides of the Ohio River when Reds manager David Bell anointed Luis Castillo as the Opening Day pitcher.
Castillo’s spring training numbers were high on the ugly scale and many expected either one of the newcomers, Tanner Roark or Sonny Gray to occupy the mound Thursday afternoon.
As the shadows crept over the GABP grandstand, the screams and shouts of dismay emanated from the batter’s box and the Pittsburgh Pirates dugout as Castillo knocked aside the hitters like rubber or plastic toy pirates.
Mixing his fastballs and change-up to the utter confusion of the Pirates, Castillo painted a one-hit shutout with eight strikeouts with two outs in the sixth.
When he gave up a broken-bat single to Josh Bell, whom he had struck out twice, Bell made his first managerial move. Castillo was at 91 pitches, so Bell replaced him with Jared Hughes.
Hughes gave up a single to Francisco Cervelli and a two-run single to Jung Ho Kang to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
“He was getting to his pitch limit and was coming out at the end of the inning anyway,” said Bell about taking out Castillo. “It was feel this early in the season. What a great game he pitched. Opening Day, pitch like that for us. I’m happy for him.”
But Peraza tied it with his leadoff homer in the seventh and Dietrich sent everybody home happy who wasn’t dressed in black and gold.
“What a huge home run for Derek and I’m really happy for him,” said Bell. “It is not easy pinch-hitting, but he has had success doing it throughout his career. What a great way to start his career here in Cincinnati.”
That’s not to say it wasn’t spine-tingling in the ninth inning when the Pirates loaded the bases with two outs. Bell tipped his hand as to how he’ll manage this year when he removed closer Raisel Iglesias in the middle of the rally.
Iglesias walked the first and third batters of the inning, putting the tying runs on base with one out. Bell brought in Amir Garrett and he struck out Adam Frazier for the second out.
Bell took out Garrett in favor of David Hernandez and he walked Starling Marte to fill the bases. Corey Dickerson, who homered to lead off the eighth, fouled off seven two-strike pitches to bring the drama to a crescendo. On the 12th pitch, Dickerson grounded to short and the place erupted.
“That was a great feeling with a little bit of relief,” said Bell after the chapter after chapter after chapter of Dickerson’ at bat. “They both (David Hernandez vs. Corey Dickerson) battled and battled and battled. What an incredible at bat. Can’t say enough about him competing and getting the out. You like to try to trick yourself and say, ‘This is just one game.’ But it’s not because it is special, a special day to this city. You always say it is important to get off to a good start, every team says that, but in our case I really believe that. It was a big day.”