By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The ol’ Cincinnati Reds’ two-step was in vogue on a scorching Saturday afternoon in Great American Ball Park.
One step forward, one step back as Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ plays in the background.
After beating the division-leading Chicago Cubs Friday night to creep to within 5 1/2 games of first place, the Reds once again put away their bats and suffered a 6-0 defeat Saturday afternoon.
And so they slithered back to 6 1/2 games behind, still entrenched in last place.
It was an unfortunate day for Reds starter Luis Castillo. He gave up one run and three hits over seven innings. His one sin was a home run pitch, an errant back door slider, to Jason Heyward in the second inning. That’s it.
He was only behind, 1-0, when he turned matters over to David Hernandez, Zach Duke and Jared Hughes in the eighth.
Hernandez and Duke loaded the bases and Hughes cleared them when his second pitch to Javier Baez was belted for a game-deciding grand slam home run.
Hughes’s pitch looked good, a down-and-away sinker.
“That was a good pitch, but Baez is such a good hitter he can reach down and take a pitch like that the other way and hit it a long way,” said Reds manager David Bell.
Meanwhile, the Reds failed in several attempts to score against starter Jose Quintana, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop and Dylan Maples. They were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine.
Things got hotter than the temperature (93) when Cubs relief pitcher Pedro Strop hit Yasiel Puig with a 3-and-0 fastball, Puig heatedly expressed his displeasure and the field was flooded with players from both sides. Puig and Strop shouted back-and-forth for a few minutes before decorum was restored.
Puig said there is no past history with Strop, but the Cubs relief pitcher expressed some personal dislike for Puig, who had to be held back by Joey Votto. Strop told the Chicago media, “He just acted stupid. And then I don’t know what to say about it. Somehow he stole my attention, too, when I’m coming set and coming to the plate and he’s like that (with his bat on his shoulder).
‘I was yelling a lot of stuff. He was yelling a lot of stuff,” said Strop. “Man, just charge me. Why you talking. You got a chance to come and do whatever you need to do. It’s not a secret (Puig) is stupid. He’s as stupid as (bleep). I have nothing against him, but he’s stupid. There’s no doubt about it, obviously.”
Puig said Votto told him, “Calm down, calm down. We need you.”
Puig said he doesn’t expect retaliation in the finale Sunday, “Because it is more important to win the game and win the series. If we throw the ball at somebody, somebody is going to get hurt, somebody will get thrown out and get suspended by Joe Torre (MLB’s man in charge of discipline). He watches the games and only wants to suspend the batter and do nothing to the pitchers.”
Home plate umpire/crew chief Mark Wegner warned both benches, meaning if he thought a pitcher threw at a batter after the warning, the pitcher and his manager would be ejected.
When pinch-hitter Jose Peraza was hit by a pitch with two outs in the ninth, Cubs pitcher Dillon Maples and manager Joe Maddon were not ejected.
Bell came out to protest and stayed long enough to get ejected by Wegner, Bell’s sixth ejection this year, tying the club record and the season is not quite half over.
Wegner told the media, “I don’t think he (Maples) threw at him intentionally.”
Bell said that’s exactly what Wegner told him but the Reds manager persisted until he was given the go-away thumb. Clearly Bell had seen enough and didn’t need to see the game’s final out.
Castillo struck out the side in the first and the Reds put two on with one out in the bottom of the first. They didn’t score because Puig lined out and Jose Iglesias lined out to center.
Castillo retired the first two in the second, including his fourth strikeout, but his first pitch to Jason Heyward ended up in the sun deck, his second home run in two days
The Reds put two on with one out again in the second and again shot blanks. Curt Casaali was called out on strikes and Nick Senzel grounded to third.
In the third it was Chicago’ turn to put two on with one out and produce zero. Kris Bryant grounded into an inning-ending double play to leave it at 1-0.
Castillo escaped certain calamity in the fifth inning when the Cubs filled the bases with no outs on a walk, an infield hit and an error by third baseman Eugenio Suarez.
But Castillo struck out opposing pitcher Jose Quintana and second baseman Scooter Gennett started an inning-ending double play on Kyle Schwarber. The call at first base was disputed and reviewed and the out call was confirmed.
Joey Votto led the Reds’ sixth with his sixth hit in his last seven at bats, a full count single to center, Suarez struck out, Puig fouled out to first and Jose Iglesias poked a single to right.
That put runners on second and first with two outs and Scooter Gennett with a chance to play hero. He popped out to shallow left field and the game rolled on into the seventh with the Cubs in charge, 1-0.
With one out in the seventh Derek Dietrich pinch-hit for Castillo and to the surprise of nobody, Dietrich was hit by a Steve Cishek pitch on a 2-and-2 count, the 16th time this season he was hit by a pitch. Curt Casali lined to right and not only did Heyward catch it, he fired a throw to first to double off Dietrich and end another fruitless inning for the Reds.
David Hernandez replaced Castillo for the eighth and the excitement began. He gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter David Bote, struck out Kyle Schwarber and gave up a double to Kris Bryant.
With runners on second and third with one out, Bell summoned left hander Zach Duke to face left hander Anthony Rizzo. Duke walked him on four pitches, filling the bases.
Hughes was brought in to pitch to Baez. And on the second pitch. . .crunch. Baez, the starting shortstop for the National League in the upcoming All-Star game, blasted one to the opposite field and it crash landed over the wall, a grand slam home run and a 5-0 Cubs lead.
All that was left was the Puig-Strop undercard.