By Hal McCoy
Hunter Greene felt like a Stranger in Paradise during Friday’s matinee in Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs.
When he looked at the mammoth green manual scoreboard in center field after the fifth inning, there was a ‘7’ on the Cincinnati Reds’ runs line.
In seven of his previous 10 starts, the Reds scored one or fewer runs.
And while his teammates took care of the offense en route to a 9-0 rout, Greene was an impossible task for the Cubs.
Greene pitched six no-hit innings, walked two and tied his caree best with 11 strikeouts.
How good was he? For five innings, he didn’t even need an outfielder as no balls left the infield. It ended when Nico Hoerner lined out to left leading off the sixth.
And why was Greene lifted after six innings? It was his usual bugaboo. . .his pitch count. He threw 110 pitches. He went to 3-and-2 counts on six batters. But he struck out four of them.
“Filling up the (strike) zone was super important today,” said Greene during his post-game media interview. “And I continued to be aggressive.”
Greene was more interested in thanking the offense for its 19-hit assault while he helped stick the Cubs with their first shutout loss of the season.
“That put me in a better mentality,” he said. “I could just fill up the zone and compete. To feel that support early (two runs in the first) and to continue to hit throughout the game, not just that first inning, was great.”
For the first time, Greene’s catcher was veteran Curt Casali, who guided his way. The Reds own three shutouts and Casali has caught all three. And the Reds are 7-and-0 when Casali starts behind the plate.
Before the game, the Reds wondered which Justin Steele would they see? Steele was 6-and-1 with a 2.20 earned run average this season. But in four starts for his career against the Reds his earned run average was 7.31.
And exactly a year ago, Steele started a game in Cincinnati that the Reds won, 20-5.
It was the ‘old’ Steele, The Reds ripped him for six runs (five earned) in 3 2/3 innings. He fooled nobody. Even Cincinnati’s outs echoed loudly in ‘The Friendly Confines.’
For the game, none of the 19 hits were home runs, but seven were for extra bases. Matt McLain, Tyler Stephenson, Spencer Steer and Stuart Fairchild each contributed three hits. Steer had a single, double and triple.
Everbody in the starting lineup but Jonathan India had at least one hit and India produced a sacrifice fly.
Casali’s only hit came in the ninth inning, a two-run single, his first RBIs this season and he said of his offensive struggles, “It was a long, painful road. Sometimes those kinds of hits (a blooper to right) might turn things around for you. It’s no secret I’ve been struggling and I’m just trying to put all that behind me to make up for it.”
And Casali guided Greene to his first win of the season after four defeats. Of catching all three Reds shutouts, Casali said, “Yeah, I’m really proud of those zeros.”
For the Cubs, it was a repeat performance after they were crunched Thursday by the New York Mets, 10-1. For the Reds it was a reverberating and resounding bounceback from a 2-1 loss Thursday to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Eduardo Salazar, just called up from Class AAA Louisville, maintained the no-hitter with a 1-2-3 seventh, but gave up a pair of singles in the eighth to Christopher Morel and Miles Mastrobuoni.
Chicago starter Steele had given up two total runs in the first innings in his first 10 starts. The Reds, though jumped on him for two in the first on four hits, including McLain’s infield hit, a triple by Steer and a single by Stephenson.
They added one in the third on Stephenson’s two-out double and Nick Senzel’s single. Three more came across in the fourth on India’s sacrifice fly and run-scoring singles by Steer and Stephenson.
Of the run explosion when he seldom sees runs crossing the plate, Greene said, “It is out of my control and I trust these guys to the fullest because they work super hard.
“I’m at the beginning of my career so to get caught up in that would be foolish,” he added. “It is just baseball and not everything works.”
About the bombardment of Steele, Greene said, “It shows the mentality our hitters have no matter who is on the mound or what the stats are. They are going out there swinging and believing in our team.”