By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — It was perhaps apropos that the Cincinnati Reds wore throwback uniforms Sunday afternoon, costumes from 1937 — white shirts and bright red pants with white hats and white socks.
“We’re going full mode beer league softball today,” said one clubhouse attendant.
Don’t they get into a lot of brawls in beer league softball?
Normally, when two teams engage in pitchers using hitters as sitting-duck targets, it involves the Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates.
On Saturday, though, it was the Chicago Cubs taking aim and three Reds were hit by pitches,
When Cincinnati’s Yasiel Puig was hit with a 3-and-0 fastball by Chicago’s Pedro Strop, Puig took umbrage and a barrage of name-calling ensued.
After the game, Puig took the high highway and said there is no history between him and Strop or any of the Cubs.
Strop was not so politically correct. He took the low path. In his post-game interview he called Puig stupid three times in two sentences.
There is no doubt that Puig is a lightning rod, that his on-the-field antics do not endear him with the opposition. He is, in baseball vernacular, a hot dog.
Former Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips was the same way. When asked if he knew he was a hot dog, Phillips smiled and said, “Pass the mustard.”
Puig and Phillips are guys who are despised by the other teams. But if they are on your team, you smile and say, “They’re just boys being boys.”
But can there be a carryover into Sunday’s game, especially after Puig hears or reads about Strop calling him stupid? And especially after the Cubs hit three Reds batters Saturday and Reds pitchers hit nobody?
“No, no, no carryover,” said Reds manager David Bell. “Bottom line. . .we didn’t do anything wrong. Yasiel got hit and he reacted. It makes you mad when you get hit. But he didn’t do anything wrong. We just have to go out and do what we can to win this game.”
Well, how about Strop’s inflammatory words?
“We know Yasiel and (what Strop said) couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Bell. “Like I said, Yasiel didn’t do anything wrong. He was the one who was hit and verbally attacked. We know Yasiel and we know that’s the furthest thing from the truth.
AFTER SUNDAY’S GAME, the Reds were 81 game into the season, exactly half way. And they are in a familiar position, last place in the National League Central.
Asked where he is as far as his first year as a major league manager, Bell said he isn’t into self-analysis.
“I haven’t thought a lot about me personally, I’ve though a lot about where we are as a team,” he said. “It is about every day going out and trying to be the best team we can be.”
Have they been? Because the won-loss record at this point is much better than it has been the last four years and because the team is so close to first place it can smell the Cubs’ cologne, Bell is actually pleased.
“For us to be at game 81 and be in the thick of things and knowing if we play our best baseball moving forward in the second half, we know we are going to be right there,” he said.
Right where? Still in last? Third? First?
“That’s all we can ask for as a team,” he said. “We continue every day to find ways to get better and we will take that approach. Get better each day and see where that leads us.”
Bell said his job and his staff’s job is to figure out how to get better every day, how to play good baseball consistently instead of looking like the 1976 Reds on Friday and look like the 1982 Reds (101 losses) on Saturday.
“I couldn’t be happier with where we are, the environment we have, the way our players care about each other, the way they compete. I say that a lot only because they are really important. We’re in a good place and that’s a good foundation to have.”
For sure he didn’t mean that last place is a good place to be. And that is all well and good, admirable things, but those are small pieces of what it takes to be a championship contender.
What really needs to be done, how can this team, as constituted find the consistency to put pressure on the Pirates, Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs?
“From a baseball standpoint, we’ve had a lot of good things happen, a lot,” he said. “You are never satisfied, you never relax. The only way to approach this game is how to get better each day, build on success and learn from the failures.”
Asked where he feels the team needs to get better on the field, Bell said it perfectly: “In all areas. We have guys very driven to be the best as a team. If the season ended right now, we are not in the playoffs. Our season’s goal is to make the playoffs and that means we have to get better in every way. We have to look at everything we’re doing. . .the way we prepare, the way we practice, the way we play the game.”
Bell pretty much says those same things day after day after day when asked. And if it sounds as if he is satisfied with the won-loss record, that isn’t the case.
“It is not to say I’m disappointed or not satisfied,” he said. “We’ve put ourselves in a position where if we can find every little way to get better and find every edge to get an advantage, we’re right there. I’m very encouraged by the position we’re in.”
Still, right now, it is last place, with 81 games to find the edges and advantages.