By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — When it is about the first inning, the Cincinnati Reds are Masters of the Baseball Universe. They are Top Dog, King of the Hill.
They lead baseball in runs scored in the first inning, 68, and they have hit 23 home runs and are batting .299 in the first inning.
And the Reds struck early Sunday afternoon, three runs in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs and pitcher Jon Lester. That included a three-run home run by Eugenio Suarez that nearly knocked the faux steamboat off its moorings high above the black batter’s building beneath the boat.
Then, as so often happens, they didn’t do much more — nothing for four innings. Then they scored one in the sixth and four big insurance runs in the eighth, runs they needed to carry them to an 8-6 victory. It enabled the Reds to take the series two games to one and move back to within 5 1/2 games of the division-leading Cubs.
“I don’t know what to make of that (scoring runs in the first inning),” said manager David Bell. “I do think it is about preparing well and getting ready for the game. We’ve seen that the games we’ve won after scoring in the first that we’ve continued to score runs. When we do that, good things have happened.”
Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani deeply appreciated the three-run jump start and held the Cubs to no runs and five hits over six innings to push his record to 5-and-4.
Lester walked Nick Senzel in the bottom of the first on a full count, left fielder Kyle Schwarber dropped Joey Votto’s routine fly ball for an error and Eugenio Suarez homered.
Homered? He launched a 457-foot three-run explosion that landed on the deck of boat in center field.
“I didn’t see where it landed,” said Bell. “Geno has good power and to do it off a good pitcher like that (Lester), very important for him. It went a long way, but the main thing was that it went over the fence.”
They could have sliced that one into about three home runs.
From there, Lester put the Reds bats in hibernation. After Suarez’s home run he retired 12 straight Reds.
The Reds finally broke through for a fourth run in the sixth inning. Yasiel Puig walked, stole second and scored on Phillip Ervin’s punch single to left.
Puig and Ervin combined in the same manner to produce the fifth run in the eighth. Puig singled, again stole second and scored on Ervin’s punch single to right.
Puig celebrated vociferously after crossing home plate and the next hitter, Jose Peraza paid the price. Cubs pitcher Dillon Maples hit him with a pitch. That, though, cost the Cubs, Pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer singled for a run to make it 6-3. Then Nick Senzel drove a two-run single to left and it was 8-3.
DeSclafani was on auto-pilot — no runs, five hits, one walk, seven strikeout and only 74 pitches through six innings when manager David Bell decided to take him down for a pinch-hitter in the seventh with a 4-0 lead and two runners on base.
“No question that Disco was pitching outstanding,” said Bell. “We were in a situation where we had a chance to tack on more runs. “We had a full bullpen and our bullpen has been outstanding. Not an easy decision but we wanted to tack on runs.”
It didn’t work on two fronts. Pinch-hitter Jesse Winker made the third out and DeSclafani’s replacement, Michael Lorenzen, nearly blew the game. in the eighth, giving up three runs.
“I was really glad to be able to throw up zeroes and it was nice to have that early lead, for sure,” said DeSclafani. “The last time I faced them they got to me pretty quick. So it was nice to have that lead and make quality pitches when I need them, getting quick outs.”
Of his early departure after only 74 pitches, he said, “Yeah, obviously I would have loved to go on. I guess David thought he’d pinch-hit for me and try to put up more runs.
“That the decision he makes and I have to keep going until the ball is taken away from me,” DeSclafani added.
Lorernzen gave up a double to Addison Russell, a run-scoring single by Albert Almora Jr., and a two-run home run to left field by Middletown native Kyle Schwarber. The Reds lead was down to 4-3.
Amir Garrett finished the seventh, then walked Jason Heyward to open the eighth. Bell tempted the bad karma of using Raisel Iglesias in the eighth, calling him to the mound with no outs and a runner on first.
He quickly struck out pinch-hitter Javier Baez on a bad pitch and struck out Addison Russell. He walked No. 8 hitter Daniel Descalso, putting the potential tying run on second and go ahead run on first.
On a 1-and-2 count, he and catcher Curt Casali had a chat on the mound, then Iglesias threw a wild pitch, moving the runners to third and second. But Almora popped the next pitch foul to Casali and the threat died.
Amazingly, Iglesias took an 8-3 lead into the ninth b with two on base and gave up a two-out, 0-and-2 three-run home run to Jason Heyward. He finally ended it on a pop-up by Javier Baez.
A play unfolded in the third inning that was mindful of the infamous Steve Bartman Controversy, an event embedded in Cubs lore.
On Sunday the Cubs had two on and two outs with Anthony Rizzo at the plate. He fouled one down the left field line. Reds left fielder Phillip Ervin reached the wall along the stands. But when he reached to catch it, a young fan wearing a Reds spring training cap deflected it.
The Reds asked for a replay/review and it was ruled, ‘Spectator Interference,’ and Rizzo was ruled out. It was the right call because without the fan’s deflection, Ervin would have made the catch.
“Oh, yeah, I got there and was ready to make the catch,” said Ervin. “But he got there before I did.”
In Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series in Wrigley Field, the Cubs led the Marlins, 3-0, with one out in the eighth inning.
Luis Castillo (no relation to Reds pitcher Luis Castillo) hit one to about the same spot as Rizzo’s foul ball Sunday. Cubs left fielder Moise Alou reached above the wall to catch it, but Steve Bartman deflected it.
The umpire did not call spectator interference and there was no replay. So Castillo was not called out, the Marlins scored eight runs in that inning and went on to beat the Cubs and advance to the World Series.
Both managers of those team also managed the Reds, Chicago’s Dusty Baker and Florida’s Jack McKeon.
While the young fan Sunday was escorted away from his seat, which was near a lot of Cubs fans, Steve Bartman’s whereabouts these days is unknown.