By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — If you plan to wager on the Kentucky Derby late Saturday afternoon, place a few shekels on the morning line 5-to-1 chestnut colt called Improbable.
Because what happened Friday night, 102 miles north of Churchill Downs in Great American Ball Park, is as improbable as improbable gets involving the Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds sprinted to a quick eight-run lead over the senior citizens representing the San Francisco Bay Area, then lost it — kicked away an 8-0 and 10-3 lead and lost in 11 innings, 12-11.
The final deed was a leadoff home run in the top of the 11th by Evan Longoria.
Another improbable? Reds closer Raisel Iglesias was one out away from finishing the game in the ninth. With two outs and nobody on, some guy named Stephen Vogt hit a home run that nearly knocked down a satellite, tying the game 11-11.
But that just skims the surface of this event and its improbabilities.
Reds starting pitcher Sonny Gray began the game 0-and-4 because in his previous six starts the Reds had scored 0, 0, 1, 1, 3 and 0 runs.
Then the first improbable. The Reds scored eight runs in the first three innings.
What was not so improbable was that six of those runs were provided by Derek Dietrich, who appears to have a deep love affair with GABP. He hit a pair of three-run home runs, one in the first and one in the third, off Giants starter Tyler Beede.
Dietrich’s night and Longoria’s home run upstaged the coming-out party of super-rookie Nick Senzel. Senzel was 1 for 5 with two walks and two strikeouts. His first walk on a six-pitch at bat with one out in the third ignited a five-run inning punctuated by Dietrich’s second three-run home run, giving him a team-leading 20 RBI, even though he is a part-time player. And his six RBI in one game is a career-best.
Senzel’s first major league hit was an infield dribbler up the first base line in the ninth inning. It was in the midst of a Reds rally that filled the bases with two outs before slump-shrouded Scott Schebler broke his bat and grounded out meekly to the pitcher after fouling off five two-strike pitches. And it sent the game spiraling into the 10th inning at 11-11.
Senzel, an infielder-turned-outfielder and still learning to play in grass instead of dirt, made a long stretch catch near the wall after a long run in the sixth inning.
“This was nothing I ever thought. . .I dreamed about it but it was nothing like that,” said Senzel of his first big league experience. “It was surreal walking up to the plate and hearing my name and how the crowd reacted was really special to me. They’ve supported me since I got drafted and to finally come this far and have the city of Cincinnati have my back is really emotional to me.”
Gray, blessed with eight early runs, didn’t know how to handle it and struggled. He survived only five innings, just long enough to qualify for his first win if the bullpen hadn’t blown it, while giving up three runs, four hits and three walks.
Although Gray had thrown only 82 pitches and had a seven-run lead, manager David Bell yanked him after five and it quickly cost the team four runs.
Then, another improbable. The bullpen imploded. Peralta, Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, Raisel Iglesias and Jared Hughes combined to give up nine runs and 13 hits over the last six innings, coughing it all up after leading, 8-0, and sending the game into extra innings at 11-11 and then losing when Hughes gave up Longoria’s home run.
“The message for us was that you can never give up,” said Dietrich. “In our ball park you an put some runs on the board quickly. It’s a lesson that we’ll continue to learn — you never give up. And it’s credit to the other side. They could have easily put their heads down and crawled to the finish line.”
Instead, the Reds crawled and never made it to the finish line.”
Wandy Peralta gave up four runs and four hits in the sixth that included a two-run home run by Joe Panik and the Reds’ lead dwindled to 10-7.
Down by four in the eighth, the Giants filled the bases with two outs in the eighth and Brandon Belt banged a two-run single to center off Amir Garrett, drawing the Giants to within 11-9.
With the potential tying runs on base, Bell brought in closer Iglesias and he quickly gave up a run-scoring single to Evan Longoria and it was 11-10. Iglesias finally nipped it in the bud by striking out Brandon Crawford, leaving two Giants on base.
Improbable? Iglesias retired the first two Giants in the ninth then gave up the game-tying home run to Stephen Vogt, recalled just two days ago from Class AAA Sacramento.
The last time the Cincinnati offense involved itself in this much mayhem was on a just-completed trip, which the Reds opened by scoring 12 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Then on the rest of the trip they scored 3, 2, 5, 3, 1 and 0.
The Giants outhit the Reds 17-13 and the Reds stranded 13 runners and it took them 4 hours and 21 minutes to kick this one away.
And therein lies another improbable. The two worst hitting teams in the National League combined for 23 runs and 30 hits.
And you want real improbable? Joey Votto went 0 for 7 and made two outs in one inning. Now that’s improbable.
“Our guys in the bullpen have been doing such a great job and then to finally score some runs and not be able to hold it. . .it happens and it is a great test,” said Bell.
About removing Gray with a seven-run lead and 82 pitches after five, Bell said, “Sonny had to work hard to get where he was through five innings. He did his job tonight.”