By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Legend of Aristides Aquino continues to expand like a hot air balloon on steroids.
It seems that he can hit a home run any time he wants, and maybe he can.
To the astonishment of everybody but himself, Aquino hot-whacked a three-run home run Saturday night that helped lift the Cincinnati Reds past the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-1.
Well, maybe it didn’t astonish teammate/pitcher Luis Castillo. Aquino played for Class A Daytona in 2016 and faced Castillo, pitching for Jupiter in the Florida State League. “He hit a home run off me that came off the bat at 120 miles an hour,” said Castillo.
The home run Saturday in Great American Ball Park was Aquino’s 11th in his 17 major league games, the quickest player in Major League history to hit that many in so few games.
Before the game, a young kid named Will Gawronski, part of a Stand Up to Cancer event, was permitted to attend manager David Bell’s pre-game press conference and was permitted the first question.
GAWRONSKI: “Do you think Aristides Aquino can keep up his home run pace?”
BELL: “What do you think?”
BELL: “So do I.”
Not even Bell believes that. Nobody can. With a first name like Aristides, this has to be something out of Greek Mythology.
And if you want to put a thoroughbred spin into it, a horse named Aristides won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875. He raced 21 times and won nine times. That’s a solid record, but not as solid as Aristides the ballplayer.
If you stretched those 11 home runs end-to-end, they’d almost reach the 25-year-old Aquino’s home in the Dominican Republic.
Aquino is about as quiet and unassuming as a doorman at a church, answering questions in a soft tone through translator Julio Morillo. Asked if he realizes and understands what he is accomplishing in baseball history, he calmly said, “I am in my best moment right now and I am just going to keep doing what I’m doing.
“I do realize what I am doing, but I don’t pay attention to it because I just want to be focused on the game and important things, like winning games. I just want to try to help my team win.”
Teammate Nick Senzel, who starting things off with a leadoff home run in the first inning, has seen the good and the bad from Aquino through the minors.
“It is amazing what he is doing,” said Senzel. “He has always had the talent, the mindset. It was about making a couple of tweaks and putting himself in the best possible way to make himself successful.
“He worked really hard in spring training to maximize what he has,” Senzel added. “He is so gifted physically and now we’re seeing him reap the benefit. I’ve seen him when he has been bad, but the coaches believed in him and helped him out. He is such a good kid, so humble, and he brings a lot of energy to the team.”
Starter Anthony DeSclafani pitched five innings and worked out of trouble in nearly every inning. He was rewarded with his eighth win after he held the Cardinals to one run, five hits, walked three and struck out four.
DeSclafani worked out of a third base and second base situation with one out in the top of the first, getting Marcell Ozuna on a liner to second and Matt Wieters on a weak ground ball.
Nick Senzel then gave DeSclafani a 1-0 lead with his second swing, leading off the bottom of the first. He belted his 10th home run, his third this season to lead off the game.
That lead only lasted until the Cardinals came to bat in the second. Matt Carpenter, the only Cardinals starter not to collect one of his teams 18 hits Friday night, made up for it on this night. He cranked a home run to right field, tying the game, 1-1.
DeSclafani enacted another escape act in the third when Dexter Fowler was on second with one out. That threat subsided when DeSclafani struck out Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna, both looking.
Then it was Mikolas’ turn to work out of a squirmy situation in the bottom of the third. The Reds put two aboard with two outs and Aristides Aquino at the plate. With the crowd more than half-expecting for him to provide his daily home run, Aquino worked the count to 3-and-2 before popping out to third.
And it was, “Back at you, Mr. DeSclafani” in the St. Louis fourth. He put two Cardinals aboard with two outs and retired opposing pitcher Mikolas on a line drive to center.
Mikolas did not escape in the Cincinnati fourth. Phillip Ervin and Tucker Barnhart opened the inning with back-to-back singles and Ervin scored on Jose Iglesias’ sacrifice fly, pushing the Reds in front, 2-1.
DeSclafani walked Fowler to open the fifth. With two outs, Marcell Ozuna singled to center. Nick Senzel fielded it on the dead run and while still in stride threw a strike to third base to wipe out Fowler and end the inning.
The Reds were back at it in the sixth. With two outs and nobody on, Josh VanMeter and Freddy Galvis both singled. Again, it was Aquino. This time. . .first pitch. . .bye-bye baseball. . .Reds 5, Cardinals 1.
The victory was noteworthy for more than the fact the Reds upended the NL Central’s first place team.
Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker and Amir Garrett all were unavailable to play. Bell had a two-man bench of pitcher/outfielder Michael Lorenzen and back-up catcher/infielder Kyle Farmer.
None of the first five batters in the Reds lineup was with the team to start the season. And three are rookies. It was Nick Senzel (R), Josh VanMeter (R), Freddy Galvis, Aristides Aquino (R) and Phillip Ervin.
Those five combined for seven hits, five RBI, five runs and two home runs.