By HAL McCOY
It isn’t often a middle relief pitcher is the center of attention by the media, unless he blows a game and has to explain himself after the game.
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher David Hernandez definitely was the center of attention on the positive side Saturday night after the Reds recorded a 5-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants, their third straight victory.
Before the game, Hernandez hosted a tailgate party in the Oracle Field parking lot for his family and friends, most of them coming to the game from 75 miles away near Sacramento.
Hernandez gave them much to brag about when he came into the game in the seventh inning to protect a one-run lead. Protect? He guarded that lead like a Brinks guard with his gun drawn.
Hernandez pitched two perfect inning and struck out five of the six batters he faced.
“I had some extra juice, you might say, because of my family and friends. You don’t want to go out their and be a circus,” Hernandez said during his on-the-field post-game interview.
After Hernandez, closer Raisel Iglesias finished it with a perfect ninth, adding two more strikeouts.
For the first time this year, manager David Bell ran the same lineup with the same batting order into a game for the second night in a row.
And why not? The Reds beat the Giants, 7-0, on Friday night with the same lineup. Bell has employed 36 different batting orders in the first 40 games.
The Reds jumped on Giants starter Jeff Samardzija for three runs in the first inning. Nick Senzel opened the game with a walk and Joey Votto drilled a triple to deep center field. With two outs, Yasiel Puig unloaded a down-range missile of a home run, 422 feet deep into the left field seats for a 3-0 lead.
But Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani struggled. The Reds streak of two straight shutout ended in the bottom of the first when Evan Longoria homered over the center field wall.
And the Giants took a 4-3 lead in the fourth when DeSclafani gave up back-to-back singles to open the inning. Yasiel Puig tried to make a diving catch on Steven Duggar’s line drive and it skipped past him for a two-run triple to tie the game, 3-3. A sacrifice fly by Joe Panik pushed the Giants in front, 4-3.
DeSclafani survived only four innings and gave up four runs and eight hits. Nevertheless, the Reds came back to win it and the Reds have won DeSclafani’s last five starts.
The Reds tied it in the fifth when Eugenio Suarez nearly left the stadium with a leadoff home run that traveled 429 feet, landing at the top row of the left field seats.
And it was Suarez who started the rally that gave the Reds their winning run. He doubled down the left field line to open the seventh.
With one out Suarez took third base on a passed ball charged to Giants catcher Eric Kratz. Puig struck out for the second out. Derek Dietrich blooped one to left field that ticked off the glove of diving left fielder Mac Williamson for a run-scoring single and a 5-4 lead.
That left it up to the Reds bullpen and, as usual, it was good night and thanks for coming.
Robert Stephenson pitched a perfect fifth and Amir Garrett escaped a walk on the wild side in the sixth.
He gave up a one-out single to Stephen Duggar and walked pinch-hitter Donovan Solano, putting two on. For some reason, Duggar tried to steal third and catcher Tucker Barnhart threw him out.
Garrett walked Joe Panik to put runners on second and first again, this time with two outs. He escaped by striking out Steven Vogt.
That’s when Hernandez and Iglesias finished the deal. The Reds bullpen retired 15 batters, eight via strikeouts and the bullpen leads the National League in earned run average.
The Reds are 3-and-2 on this six-game trip to Oakland and San Francisco, both last place clubs. They finish the trip Sunday afternoon in San Francisco against Madison Bumgarner, then return home to play six games against first place teams, three against the Chicago Cubs and three against the Los Angeles Dodgers.