By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — While ‘The Punisher’ is a very cool nickname, Aristides Aquino has progressed far beyond that in 10 major league games.
The Destroyer? Demolition Man? The Executioner?
Nothing seems apropos for the 25-year-old Dominican rookie. He seems not of this earth, not of this universe as far as baseball is concerned.
Aquino clobbered home runs in his first three at bats, three in successive innings, helping his Cincinnati Reds to a 10-1 destruction of the first place Chicago Cubs Saturday night in Great American Ball Park.
Aquino, called up from Class AAA Louisville on August 1, has hit seven home runs in his eight starts. He is the first player in franchise history to hit seven in his first 10 games (he played one game last year and pinch-hit in one game this year).
Aquino has homered in four straight games, the first Reds rookie to do it since Eric Davis in 1984. And his three home runs in three consecutive innings tied a Major League record, set earlier this year by Chicago’s Kris Bryant.
The Reds, now six games behind the division-leading Cubs, had an excellent supporting cast for Aquino, including pitcher Sonny Gray — six innings, no runs, two hits (the first hit came in the fifth inning), four walks, seven strikeouts.
And the Reds cold-cocked six home runs, the three of Aquino and one each by Nick Senzel, Eugenio Suarez and Kyle Farmer. They added five doubles, two by Josh VanMeter to their 18-hit attack.
Sal Romano, just brought back from Class AAA Louisville, pitched the final three innings and gave up a ninth-inning home run to Middletown native Kyle Schwarber, his 27th.
The night, though, belonged to Aquino. He is a man of quiet but solid confidence.
Asked if anything about his big league debut surprises him, his one-word answer was, “No.”
Asked if this is what he expected to happen, his one-word answer was, “Yes.”
Asked if he had ever hit three home runs in any game in his life and his two-word answer was, “First time.”
All three home runs ball were retrieved and when asked if he was going to keep them or any on of them, his answer was, “No. The win was the most important thing. And I’m having fun.”
The Reds scored first, one in the first inning. But it could have been more. Joey Votto doubled and Josh VanMeter doubled him home. VanMeter, inexplicably and with no excuse, was picked off second base.
The Reds scored two in the second inning. But it could have been more. Aquino lined his first home run of this game into the left field corner, Nick Senzel followed with an explosion into the upper deck, back-to-back home runs.
Tucker Barnhart and Jose Peraza followed with singles and the Reds had two on with no outs. Sonny Gray bunted them to third and second. But Jesse Winker struck out and, once again, with runners in scoring position Joey Votto took a called third strike.
As it turned out, those failures were superfluous.
When Aquino stepped into the box with two outs and nobody on in the fourth, there was no way he would hit another home run. Just no way.
Oh, yeah? On pitcher Kyle Hendricks’ first pitch Aquino ripped one into the left field seats, second of the game and No. 6 of the season.
And the Cubs began unraveling like a moth-eaten wool sweater. Nick Senzel singled and continued to second when center fielder Albert Almora Jr. booted it for an error.
Tucker Barnhart singled home Senzel. Jose Peraza bounced a ground rule double into the left center seats, putting runners on third and second.
To really rub it in, pitcher Sonny Gray poked a two-run single to right and it was 7-0. When Votto made the final out, four runs had scored, all after there were two outs and nobody on.
The onslaught progressed in the fourth against relief pitcher Dillon Maples. Eugenio Suarez drilled Maples’ first pitch over the center field fence, the 32nd of the year for Suarez and the fourth of the game for the Reds.
And then it was Aquino’s turn? Again? Again!!! His third home run in three innings, something right out of The Twilight Zone, made it 9-0. His seventh home run in eight starts this season earned him a curtain call out of the dugout.
“It was really nice and that’s why I came out there, for the fans to enjoy that,” he said. “I enjoyed the moment.”
That’s when Cubs manager Joe Maddon waved the white flag, offered unconditional surrender by making several lineup changes, including the removal of stars Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez.
When Aquino came to bat in the sixth inning, seeking his fourth home run of the night, Chicago pitcher Alec Mills walked him on four pitches, drawing ear-assaulting boos from the crowd. Mills pitched to him in the eighth and struck him out, proving only that, yes, Aquino is human.
Manager David Bell was thrilled that Aquino took the walk when he could have flailed wildly in search of home run No. 4.
“It showed really good poise on his part,” said Bell. “He didn’t bite on a 3-and-0 curveball. He is not only hitting home runs, he is doing it in meaningful games and in important situations,” said Bell. “These games are so important to us as a team and he is coming through for us.”
When spring training began, Baseball America rated Aquino the 19th best prospect in the Reds system, making one wonder how good the 18 ahead of him must be.
The Reds did not tender him a contract after last season, making him a free agent…for one day. He was re-signed the next day and invited to Major League camp for spring training.
And the rest is burgeoning history of gigantic proportions, so far.
Aquino is extremely shy and soft-spoken, mostly keeping his head down during interviews. But when somebody asked him if he likes the nickname ‘The Punisher,’ he broke into a broad smile as said, “I love it.”