By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Yasiel Puig crushed a two-run home run and drove in three runs. Nice work.
Jose Peraza drilled a two-run go-ahead double, his first RBI since Opening Day. Nice work.
Sonny Gray gave up three earned runs and struck out nine in 5 1/3 innings. Nice work.
Those are the events that most of the fans were talking about as they walked away from Great American Ball Park Tuesday night after the Cincinnati Reds beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-6.
All of that was needed, but tucked among it was one of the most unselfish plays of the 2019 season and it was perpetrated by Reds pinch-hitter Derek Dietrich, who on this night subscribed to the theory, “It’s the little things that count.”
Dietrich came to bat in the sixth inning with a runner on first and one out, the Reds trailing by a run. Dietrich, who has been a hero several times this season with dramatic late-game home runs, could have done it again. Or at least tried it again.
Instead, with a hefty shift that opened the left side entirely, Dietrich pushed a bunt up the third base line and could have run to first base in high heels. It was a bunt single, only the second bunt hit of his career, and it ignited a four-run inning that brought the Reds from a run down to two runs up.
It was a play available to nearly every left handed batter these days because of the analytic shifts that load up the right side and leave the left side vacant. But players believe they can beat the shift by denting seats in the bleachers, eschewing an easy, we’ll-give-it-to-you bunt single.
And Dietrich took it, remembering a question his dad asked him a while back: “About two weeks ago he asked me, ‘Are you going to try to lay down a bunt, with that shift like that?’ I’m like, ‘Dad, you’re killing me. Usually you give me some hitting tips that are good. But I haven’t bunted in a while, maybe two or three years.’ Now I know I can help in other ways, other than a home run or a big hit.”
The light went on early in the afternoon, the switch turned on by bunting coach Delino DeShields.
“It’s funny,” Dietrich said. “I was in the gym working out at about 2:57, as usual, when DeShields comes in and says, ‘Hey, we’re bunting on the field in like three minutes.’ I looked at him and thought, ‘That’s one less chance to hit a home run.’
“We went out there and I put down about 15 in a row on the line and thought, ‘All right.’ In my experience I haven’t practiced it often but I usually have a pretty good feel for it.”
So when he came to bat with the Reds down a run and Suarez on first, he looked toward third and, “I saw he was way over and way back. I thought, ‘Hmmmm, I’m gonna put it down here.’”
So he shunned the chance for another heroic home run to trickle one down the base line and when the media, pens and pads and cameras in hand, gathered around his locker, he looked up and said, “Hey, it was just a bunt.”
Yeah, a game-changing bunt, a bunt that changed the course of the game almost as much as any home run, but far less dramatic and easily forgettable.
“You have to do what you gotta do and they were giving it to me,” he said. “More than anything I was happy that Jose Peraza followed with that big knock (two-run double). That was good for him. You win baseball games in a lot of different ways and it was funny to see myself on the helping side with a bunt, but I’ll take it.”
Reds starter Sonny Gray look invincible early-on, striking out the side in the first and holding the Braves to no runs and two hits through four innings with eight strikeouts.
Yasiel Puig gave Gray a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first with a high-decibel drive to the left field seats on the first pitch after Jesse Winker’s two-out single. And Tucker Barnhart’s leadoff home run in the fourth made it 3-0.
The Braves scored a run in the fifth on Dansby Swanson’s triple and a sacrifice fly, then took a 4-3 lead in the sixth on three hits, a walk and an error.
With one out in the sixth, Jose Iglesias reached base on third baseman Josh Donaldson’s error. That’s when Dietrich dumped down his bunt to put runners on second and first with one out.
Jose Peraza, was ensnared in a 0 for 24 quagmire not long ago, pulled a double to left field that scored both Iglesias and Dietrich for a 5-4 lead. The Reds loaded the bases and scored their sixth run on an RBI walk to pinch-hitter Phillip Ervin and their seventh run on a sacrifice fly by Puig.
Atlanta scored a run off Wandy Peralta in the seventh and a run off Jared Hughes in the eighth to draw within one.
Raisel Iglesias came on in the ninth, lugging in a streak of nine straight strikeouts over his last three appearances. But pinch-hitter Matt Joyce greeted him with a first-pitch double, putting the potential tying run on second with no outs.
Ozzie Albies tried to bunt and popped out to the catcher. Josh Donaldson drove one to the base of the left center wall that Michael Lorenzen chased down for the second out as Joyce took third. It ended when Freddie Freeman grounded out to first baseball Joey Votto.