By Hal McCoy
The first of the four-stage Battle For First Place in the National League Central was a long and frustrating afternoon for the Cincinnati Reds.
The first-place Milwaukee Brewers outlasted the Reds Friday afternoon/evening, 5-4 in 11 arduous innings in front of 44,307 Great American Ball Par, an all-time record crowd.
Many came to see the post-game Zac Brown Band concert, but they had to wait through a strange string of events.
That the Reds extended the game to 11 innings was a major accomplishment From the third inning until there were two outs in the 11th, the Reds didn’t have a hit. And they finished with three.
Their first two hits, and only hits until the 11th, came in the third on back-to-back hits by Jonathan India, a two-run homer after walk and a single by Jake Fraley.
Reds relief pitcher Fernando Cruz worked out of a 10th-inning jam, arriving out of the bullpen with the bases filled with Brewers and two outs. He retired Brian Anderson on a pop up to the catcher.
Then he worked himself into a jam in the 11th. With ghost runner Anderson on second, Cruz gave up a swingle to Andruw Monasterio, moving Andserson to third.
He walked Joey Wiemer to fill the bases. The Reds then failed to turn double plays, first on a ground ball to first and the second on a ground ball to Cruz. A run scored on each play and it was 5-3.
Tyler Stephenson was Cincinnati’s ghost runner in the 11th, but Nick Senzel lined to right on a full count and Stuart Fairchild grounded to short.
With the Reds down two and down to their final out, Curt Casali raised hope by doubling home Stephenson and Casali was the potential tying run. But Spencer Steer grounded to short and the Reds fell four games behind the Brewers. With three games left in the series, the Reds can’t catch them.
While five Milwaukee relief pitchers held the Reds to one run and one hit over five innings, Cincinnati’s bullpen was up to the challenge, too.
Starter Brandon Williamson held the Brew Crew to three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings, Buck Farmer, Lucas Sims and Alex Young held Milwaukee to no runs and one hit until Cruz was unable to finish it.
The game began with some bizarre incidents.
—It was announced that a balk was called on Williams with a runner on first in the second inning. It was later revealed that umpire D.J. Reyburn caught catcher Luke Maile picking up the baseball with his mask, an illegal move with the ball in play. Weimer then hit a two-run home run to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
—The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the second inning without a hit — a walk to Fraley, who stole second, moved to third on a Stephenson ground out to second and scored on Senzel’s ground out to second.
—Milwaukee first baseman Darrin Ruf chased a pop fly in the third inning and crashed into the rolled up tarpaulin. He cut his knee and had to leave the game.
—The Reds led, 3-2, in the third inning and owned only one hit off Milwaukee starter Corbin Burnes — the two-run home run by India.
—The Brewers tied it, 3-3, in the third after the Reds failed to turn an inning-ending double play. With one out and runners on secon and first, Andruw Monasterio grounded to shortstop. Matt McLain threw high, wide and ugly past second baseman India, an error A run then scored on a ground ball to Kevin Newman, playing his first game ever at first base.
—In the fifth inning, third baseman Senzel stopped a hard ground ball by William Contreras and Senzel threw him out at first from his knees. That’s not the first time Senzel threw a runner out from his knees as he continues to play third base as though he took lessons from Brooks Robinson and Nolan Arenado.
—Burnes, upset most of the game with umpire Reyburn’s strike zone, was ejected after the sixth inning for expessing his opinion in an unacceptable manner. It really didn ’t matter. Burnes was coming out of the game after throwing 100 pitches.
Williamson bounced a ball in the dirt with one out in the seventh and it bounced and then hit batter Mike Brosseau, by rule a hit by pitch. Pinch-runner Brice Tarang stole second and Farmer came on to retire Owen Miller, leaving the tying run at second.
Milwaukee relief pitcher Peter Strzelecki hit India with a pitch to open the eight, putting the potential tying run on base, but Fraley and Stephenson struck out and Senzel popped out to leave it 3-3.
Manager David Bell brought in closer Alexis Diaz in the eighth to protect the 3-3 tie. He walked the first batter, Monasterio, then retired the next two on pop-ups. Monasterio stole second but Tarang popped out.
Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell put his closer, Devin Williams, on the mound for the bottom of the ninth. Will Benson reached first on third baseman Miller’s error. Benson stole second, his second theft and the Reds had six for the game.
But pinch-hitter Steer, National League Rookie of the Month for May, popped up and Newman grounded out, sending the game into extra innings.
And it didn’t end well for the Reds.