By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — There were two telling incidents during the Cincinnati Reds 3-1 loss Wednesday night to the Atlanta Braves that reveals just who Tanner Roark is and what for which he stands.
And both are positive.
In the fifth inning, with the score tied, 1-1, the Braves had a runner on first base with one out. Nick Markakis drove one hard to right field and Yasiel Puig tried to make a diving catch off the grass tops.
The ball, though, skipped past him and rolled to the wall, enabling Ronald Acuna Jr., to score from first base with the go-ahead, and as it turned out, the winning run.
If Puig played it safe, it would have been just a single and put runners on second and first with one out. But that’s not the way it played out.
After the inning, a distraught Puig headed for the tunnel behind the dugout and Roark was right behind him. Harsh words? Curse words?
Nope, Roark was there to soothe the wound.
“I will never be mad at somebody who dives to try to catch a ball,” said Roark. “If the guy scores, I don’t care. I love the effort and I’ll always praise the people who go out and do that.
“He is trying to do that for me and for his team and I love that,” Roark added. “I told him, ‘I’ll never be mad at you for something like that. You tried to catch the ball, busted your butt to get there and it didn’t work out. I love it.’”
Manager David Bell didn’t see the tunnel talk but said, “That doesn’t surprise me. Tanner is a great teammate. He is a professional and that means a lot. There is a lot of that going on on our team.”
The second incident was in that same fifth inning after Puig’s dive failed and the Braves took the 2-1 lead. The Braves had a runner on third with two outs.
Bell left the dugout and that usually means the pitcher is finished. Roark’s pitch-count was in the mid-90s and Bell felt it was time.
But as Bell made his way toward the mound Roark was staring him down, shaking his head negatively. It worked — both ways. After a short visit and a look in Roark’s eyes, Bell permitted him to stay in the game. And Roark retired Brian McCann on a ground ball to end the inning.
“I was kind of selfish at that point, but I felt like I needed to stay in there and prove I can go longer and get people out,” said Roark. “That’s a confidence booster to have David have that much confidence in me.
“That’s how I was raised by my parents and how they installed the fight in me to never give up and never give in,” he added. “I got the job done there and it felt good.”
Bell recognized the competitive spirit as he approached the mound, thinking at first that Roark’s day was done. But he changed his mind.
“I was going to the ‘pen,” he said. “Most of the time when I step out of the dugout I’m 100 per cent certain. He has pitched so well and he has earned that. He was near 100 pitches and the potential of getting tired.
“But soon as I stepped out of the dugout I looked at Tanner and thought, ‘I’m not going to decide until I get out there.’ We’ve had enough conversations where I really trust him. The way he spoke to me, the conviction, made the decision to leave him in an easy one.”
Roark’s day started on the downbeat with his first pitch, a get-ahead fastball to Ozzie Albers that he rocketed into the right field bleachers for a blink-of-the-eye 1-0 Atlanta lead.
“It was poorly located,” said Roark. “I know he swings at the first pitch in a lot of their games. It was poor execution. But I can’t let the first pitch of the game dictate the way the rest of the game goes.”
And he didn’t. He held the Braves to no runs and four hits until the ill-fated base hit in the fifth that eluded Puig and gave the Braves a 2-1 lead.
Meanwhile, the first three Reds reached base in the bottom of the first, but only one scored. Joey Votto walked, Eugenio Suarez singled and Jesse Winker singled Votto home to tie it, 1-1.
The Reds collected two more hits off Atlanta starter Mike Soroka in the third, but had only one hit from the fourth through the ninth, a weak infield hit by Yasiel Puig that rolled slowly to the third baseman.
The Reds did threaten in the sixth when they loaded the bases on Puig’s infield hit and two walks. With two outs and Michael Lorenzen due up, Bell sent slump-shrouded Scott Schebler up to pinch-hit. He swung at the first pitch and grounded out to end the uprising as his batting average swan-dived to .150.
“Schebler put a pretty good swing on the ball and we believe in him,” said Bell. “He is one of our guys that will be a big part of it and will be a part of it. There is no one I’d rather have up in that situation than Scott. He’ll come through in those situations.”
Bell was willing on this night to aim praise at the other team’s guys working on the mound.
“It is hard to admit this some time when you are competing, but sometimes you have to give credit to their side,” said Bell. “Their guy pitched a very, very good game. You don’t give in, but there is a time to give them credit.”
Soroka held the Reds to one run and five hits over 5 2/3 innings with three walks. Then the Atlanta bullpen held the Reds to no runs, no hits and one walk over the final 3 1/3 innings.