By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — What everybody wanted to hear, what everybody begged to happen, was for Marty Brennaman to finish his career with his catch phrase: “And this one belongs to the Reds.”
Unfortunately, it was not to be as the Milwaukee Brewers spoiled the going-away party, beating the Cincinnati Reds, 5-3, Thursday afternoon.
And when it ended with Josh Hader striking out Alex Blandino, Brennaman gave his usual routine, a quick wrap-up of the game with no mention that an iconic era had come to an end.
As the Reds left the field, having failed Brennaman, many doffed their caps toward the radio booth and Marty waved.
On his last call, with Blandino batting, Brennaman finished it with brutal honesty. Blandino took two called strikes and Brennaman said, “Frankly, that is what has plagued this young man early in his career and it is something he has to fix.”
Earlier in the week, Brennaman said he wanted his last game to be broadcast the same as any of the other nearly 7,000 games he relayed to Reds fans. But he did say, “It will be the toughest day of my life.”
And for the most part, with a few exceptions, he stuck to it. Anybody who didn’t know it was the last game of a 46-year Hall of Fame career would have no hint. It was Vintage Brennaman — solid play-by-play, analytic discussions with side-kick Jeff Brantley, and a few personal sidelights mixed in.
The first break-up in his voice came in the top of the seventh when side-kick Jeff Brantley read him a long thank you note from ‘The Fans’ instead of the normal Ask Marty Segment.
When Brantley finished, Brennaman said in a shaky voice, “I knew this was going to be a tough day. The fans don’t owe me anything. I owe them everything. This town has been good to me. Now I’ll try to compose myself and come back for the bottom of the seventh.”
Brennaman’s first encounter with emotions surfaced Thursday morning as he drove to the ball park.
His phone rang and it was former New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who interviewed for the Reds managerial job after Bryan Price was fired.
“It moved me to tears,” he said on the broadcast. “I’ll never forget it. That was thoughtful.”
In the first inning, Aristides Aquino hit a two-out home run and Brennaman got to say, in his inimitable way, “And the Reds take a 1-0 lead. I’ll tell you what, this kid has a wealth of talent. It is scary what he might be able to do.”
His first on-air shakiness was in the second inning when writers entered the booth to present him with a photograph of all the writers covering the team.
When MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon said the writers even appreciated all the jibes and jokes Brennaman aimed at us, Brennaman said, “It’s the American way.”
He began to thank the writers and said, “This is great, this will go down in my basement in my baseball room.” And his voice broke and he said, “Here I go again. . .” But he recovered quickly.
Normalcy returned to the booth for a few innings after the second. It took until the fifth inning for information to reach the booth on why Milwaukee’s Eric Thames was removed from the lineup before the game.
It was revealed that Thames had hamstring problems in both legs. Said Brennaman, “Not just one leg, but both legs. That’s about as bad as it gets.”
With a 1-0 lead, pitcher Luis Castillo started the fourth with a 0-and-2 count on Yasmani Grandal. Then he threw four straight balls. And he followed that with a five-pitch walk to Keston Hiura, a second straight walk.
“As dominating as Castillo can be, he does fall into these traps,” said Brennaman. With Manny Pina batting, Brennaman said, “Right now Castillo needs a ground ball and let his defense take care of it.” Instead, Castillo struck out Pina, Casey Spangenberg hit into a force play that brought up Travis Shaw with two outs.
“We all remember when Travis Shaw was in our clubhouse getting in everybody’s way, scampering around and players are shooing him away,” said Brennaman, speaking of the son of former Reds relief pitcher Jeff Shaw. “Now he is one fine young man, as good as it gets.”
Castillo walked Shaw to fill the bases to bring up light-hitting Orlando Arcia — light-hitting but owner of 8 hits in 21 at bats against Castillo.
Let Marty take it from here: “There’s a drive to left center. . .it’s caught. . .and dropped by Josh VanMeter. The bases are cleared, three runs score and the Brewers take a 3-1 lead.”
The next batter lined one to left and VanMeter charged the ball and missed it. The ball rolled to the wall and a fourth run scored.
“Everything is coming unbent for Castillo,” said Brennaman. “VanMeter gambled but had no chance of catching that ball.”
When Castillo finally retired the side, Brennaman said in Brennaman fashion: “Mercifully, the inning finally ends, but the Brewers have a 4-1 lead.”
Then came an on-air interview with Governor Mike DeWine, a huge Reds fan. When DeWine talked about listening to Marty on the radio, Marty evoked one of his self-deprecating comments.
“I’ve been told many times about people putting the radio under their pillows to listen to games,” he said. “Jeff Brantley and I have put more people to sleep than anybody in America, especially on west coast games.”
DeWine brought a state proclamation and Brennaman said, “Yeah, I do have space on my wall. I’m happy you stopped in to see me, proclamation or no proclamation.”
Brennaman offered to visit the statehouse and give a filibuster, “But I’d get everybody in trouble.”
With the Reds dragging their feet in the late innings, Brennaman brought up the National League Most Valuable Player award.
“Who’s going to win the National League MVP?” he said. “My choice is Cody Bellinger. He is playing for the team (Los Angeles) that is going to win the most games in the league.”
Those Milwaukee fans in the stands wearing ear plugs from the free transistor radios the Reds gave away probably booed. How about Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich? He is done for the season with an injury, but without their best player, the Brewers have won 13 of their last 15.
That’s Marty, though. His opinion is always his honest opinion, like it or not, take it or not.
When Kyle Farmer blooped a run-scoring single to shallow left field in the sixth inning, the description was pure Brennaman: “That ball had just enough air under it and hang-time.”
In the eighth, Brennaman told his fans that he just received a congratulatory text from Mark Grant, “A former big league pitcher of little note who has become an outstanding broadcaster for the San Diego Padres.” That’s Marty — a dig followed by a compliment.
Brennaman got another chance to throw out a funny quip when Tucker Barnhart struck out in the eighth inning. “That’s a flash bulletin. As Tucker Barnhart walks back to the dugout after striking out, they just announced him as a pinch-hitter.”
The Reds filled the bases with two outs in the eighth and when Jose Peraza popped out, Brennaman pointedly said, “And that has been the story of this season’s team.”
When Reds pitcher Kevin Gausman struck out a Brewer for the 11th strikeout, the fans roared and Brennaman said, “It is rather fitting that on the last home game of the season the fans get free pizza from LaRosa’s. It was the loudest cheer of the day from a rather large crowd.”
What Brennaman didn’t say was that it was rather fitting that it came on his last day as a broadcaster and the ‘rather large crowd’ (27,774) was there as a tribute to him.
He wasn’t able to say, “This one belongs the Reds.” Maybe that, too, was fitting. This day belonged to Marty Brennaman.
There never will be another like him, the best of the best. And he finished professionally — no farewell speech, not even a farewell word at the end of a just-another-day broadcast.