By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds plunged to the depths of demoralization, depression and embarrassment Friday night in Great American Ball Park.
They led the St. Louis Cardinals by seven runs after five innings, SEVEN RUNS, and they couldn’t put a wrap on it, couldn’t hold the lead.
Incredibly, the Cardinals scored 10 runs in the sixth inning, TEN RUNS, and recorded a 12-11 victory that had to surprise and stun even the Cardinals.
The implosion wrecked an unbelievable night by newly-acquired Reds catcher Ryan Lavarnway. Unbelievable? How about two home runs, a double and six RBI?
The Cardinals had to figure they were too far out of it, 7-0, after five innings. Reds starter Tyler Mahle was breezing with a three-hit shutout for five innings.
Then came the St. Louis slaughter against Mahle, Matt Bowman and Jared Hughes. The Cardinals scored the tying run on an error by first baseman Joey Votto and then Jose Martinez jolted a three-run home run on a full count against Hughes.
The inning added up to 10 runs, eight hits, two sacrifice flies, an error and the spine-snapping home run by Martinez.
When Hughes finally extracted the final out, most of the the 37,652 fans gave the Reds the ol’ Bronx cheer.
And the mess continued in the seventh inning against Robert Stephenson. With two outs he issued a walk and a two-run home run to Paul DeJong to make it 12-7.
It was Stephenson who gave up a grand slam home run Thursday night’s 7-4 loss to the Cardinals.
At least the Reds didn’t surrender. They scored four runs in the eighth and ninth and had the winning run on base in the ninth. Joey Votto ended it by grounding out.
The game was Exhibit A, a prime example, of what happens to a burned out bullpen, one that can’t even protect a seven-run lead for four innings. And they lose by a run. It becomes a dumpster fire, even though the offense ripped 18 hits.
The Reds’ inability to hold a 7-0 lead spoiled a Hollywood Grade-B type story, a story about a guy nobody heard of driving in six runs, including a three-home run home run, a two-run home run and a run-scoring single. And one swing of the bat in the ninth would have made him an instant legend. He batted with two outs and two on, a chance to tie it with another home run. He did continue the game by drawing a walk to load the bases.
Incredibly, Jesse Winker singled to right field for two runs, pulling the Reds within 12-11. The tying run was on third and the winning run was on first for Joey Votto to make the last out.
“That was fun, wasn’t it?” said Lavarnway. “I was just trying to make a good impression.”
Instead he made a lasting impression.
Of his last at bat, the walk, he said, “It would have been pretty cool to pull of another home run, wouldn’t it?”
Asked about his emotions about his night, he said, “I was just enjoying it. I’ve been up and down so many times you never know when it will be the last time.
“Early in my career I didn’t enjoy the highs,” he added. “I tried to be stoic, I tried to be Jason Varitek (Red Sox catcher). I’m a human being so I really enjoy this and had a lot of fun.
“I’m loving this 100 per cent because I feel like a cat with nine lives right now,” he said. “I appreciate being here and I’m going to do my best to contribute what I can.”
Does that all sound like a baseball player, other than some guy who once played for the Manchester Silkworms?
He attended Yale University and majored in philosophy. His wife is a chef who writes a food blog. He is devoutly Jewish and attends synagogues frequently.
Ryan Lavarnway, keeping a slim grasp on his major league dream, made his debut Friday night for the Reds and what a debut it was.
The first pitch he saw while wearing a Reds uniform was drilled into left center field, a run-scoring double that drove in the first run of the game.
His next time up, with two new teammates on base (and he might even have known their names), he drove a home run to right field. It was his first major league home run since 2015. He followed it up in the eighth inning with a two-run home run to center field.
The New York Yankees released him from their Triple-A team Wednesday night and the Reds, with three catchers on the injured list, signed him. He was previously employed by the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Atlanta Braves, Oakland A’ and the Yankees, but played only 146 major league games since signing in 2008.
Of perhaps even more daunting information was the fact the Chicago Cubs won again the Reds’ deficit in the National League Central is now double figures — 10 games out of first place. After 95 games, the Reds have the same record, 43-52, as they had at the 95-game point last season.
“That was just a tough inning (the 10-run eruption), what more can you say,” said manager David Bell. “A lot of things didn’t go right, which was unfortunate because we had a nice lead.
“It was a game we felt like we should have won, for sure,” he added. “When you are on the field, in the dugout, in the stands or watching on TV, it is tough to watch that. As confident as you are as a major league player, when things start going like that it can spiral and knock you on your heels a little bit. That was one of those innings and it was hard to watch for our guys.”
To make the evening even more bizarre, the game was just an inning old when Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez and manager David Bell were given early permission to get out of the heat.
Both were ejected by home plate umpire Carlos Torres. Suarez was called out on strikes and began chirping in Spanish from the dugout. Umpire Torres understood every word, words he didn’t like, and ejected Suarez.
Bell came out to protect Suarez and did it so vehemently he earned his seventh ejection this season.
Jose Peraza replaced Suarez at third base, the first major league appearance at that position for Peraza.