By Hal McCoy
Something as rare as an unassisted triple play played out Saturday night in Coors Field — a genuine pitcher’s duel.
After the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies combined for 36 runs in the first two games of the series, only four runs were scored in the first 10 innings Friday, two by each team.
That sent the game spiraling deep into the night and the Reds had the Rockies right where they wanted them. In eight previous extra-inning games the Reds scored their ghost runner all eight times and were 6-and-2.
Make that 7-and-2. But it was not easy, this 6-5 victory in 12 innings, their first in Denver after losing the first two in the four-game series.
Kyle Farmer pulled a two-run home run inside the left field foul pole in the 10th to give the Reds a 4-2 lead, but Lucas Sims gave up a two-run double to Josh Fuentes in the bottom of the 11th to re-tie it, 4-4.
Nick Castellanos doubled home ghost runner Jesse Winker to open the top of the 12th and the Reds added a second run on a ground ball by Eugenio Suarez.
That last run was big because the Rockies scored their ghost runner in the bottom of the 12th before relief pitcher Heath Hembree ended the game on two weak grounders.
So how do the Reds, a team a game under .500 for the season, win these extra-inning extravaganzas?
“I’m a great believer in friendships and bonds, pulling for one another,” said Castellanos. “Staying up, staying in the game, staying engaged. In extra-innings everybody is up and believing that every guy is gonna get it done, doing something extra, make a play to keep a guy on the base he’s at.”
It was a frustrating offensive night for both teams. The Reds were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Farmer’s 10t-inning homer and the Rockies finished 2 for 18.
Cincinnati’s Tyler Mahle and Colorado’s Jhoulys Chacin each during their time on the mound.
Chacin, a relief pitcher, made his first since 2019 and began the game with a 5.64 earned run average. He began spring training with the New York Yankees. When it became clear he wouldn’t make the roster, he took free agency and Colorado picked him up.
He pitched a season-high four innings and held the Reds to two runs and four hits.
Mahle was even better. He tied his career high with a seven-inning performance and held the Rockies to two runs and seven hits.
Tejay Antone followed Mahle with two scoreless innings and the Lucas Sims pitched a scoreless 10th before running into 11th-inning problems.
“Pitching here is not easy at all,” said Castellanos. “The ball flies. The outfield is huge. To be able to settle in after the first inning he had, to able to get through the amount of innings he did and just to manage everything. . .well done.”
Mahle said his slider was AWOL, so he survived with his fastball and split-finger.
“My slider was below average the whole game,” said Mahle. “I located my fastball and split, especially the split to get some early contact. That enabled me to get through seven.”
Mahle gave a leadoff ground ball hustle double to center field to Raimel Tapia in the bottom of the first.
With two outs, Mahle got two defensive swings on fast balls by Ryan McMahon. Reds radio analyst Jeff Brantley quickly said, “By the way McMahon swung at those fast balls, he is looking for a breaking pitch.”
The next pitch was a breaking pitch and McMahon launched it into the purple mountain sky, a 478-foot two-run home run into the second deck and a 2-0 Rockies lead.
Chacin walked pitcher Tyler Mahle on a full count in the third. With two out, that brought Nick Castellanos, who sat out Friday’s game, a day of rest. He clubbed one over the left field fence to tie it, 2-2.
The Reds were afforded a major opportunity in the seventh against former teammate Robert Stephenson. The former No. 1 draft pick of the Reds displayed why the Reds were willing to trade in the off-season.
He quickly retired Tucker Barnhart and Kyle Farmer. Then he walked Jonathan India on a full count. Then he hit Alex Blandino with a pitch. Then, incredibly, he walked pitcher Mahle, a .100 career hitter, on four pitches.
That filled the bases and ended Stephenson’s night. Justin Lawrence came on and retired Jesse Winker on a grounder to second.
Mahle performed a major escape act in the Colorado seventh afters Garrett Hampson tripled to dead center.
Mahle retired Elias Diaz on a shallow fly to right, struck out pinch-hitter Charlie Blackmon on three pitches and ended the threat by coaxing a ground ball to second by Tapia.
That left it at 2-2.
“I just had to try to make some pitches,” Mahle said of the seventh inning. “I was able to make three good pitched to strike out Blackmon.”
Castellanos led the eighth with a single to right and moved to second on Tyler Naquin’s grounder to first. And that’s where he stayed when Eugenio Suarez flied to right and Barnhart lined to left.
The Reds failed again in the ninth after Kyle Farmer and India opened with singles. With two on and no outs, Alex Blandino tried to bunt and popped it up.
Pinch-hitter Shogo Akiyama grounded into a fielder’s choice and Winker struck out. Winker also struck out to end the 11th inning and was 0 for 6 with four strikeouts.
Akiyama made up for his failure at the plate with what might have been a game-saving catch in the bottom of the ninth.
With two outs, Garrett Hampson drove one to deep left center. After a long, long run Akiyama snagged it. With the expansive outfield and Hampson’s world-class speed, it could have been a game-ending inside-the-park home run.
“Just a very athletic, determined individual,” Castellanos said about Shogo’s glove work. “It was to do something to help us win. It’s things like that, ove the course of 162 games that make a difference.”
“For us, it is always the next man up,” said Castellanos. “Stay positive and keep your attention between the lines, doing what you can so that at the end of the day you get a win.”