By Hal McCoy
The San Diego Padres were hit with baseball’s version of Hurricane Andrew Sunday afternoon in Great American Ball Park.
Rookie lefthander Andrew Abbott was a Category 5 while pitching 7 2/3 innings, a career best, and 12 strikeouts, a career-best, as the Reds recorded a another dramatic win, 4-3.
Abbott had the talent-laden Padres swinging at everything inside the GABP zip code en route to the longest outing this season by a Reds starting pitcher.
Unfortunately for him, he did not receive the win. It took an eight-inning pinch-hit first-pitch two-run homer by Tyler Stephenson inside the right field foul pole to provide the win, enabling the Reds to win their seventh series in their last eight.
Leading 2-0 in the eighth, Abbott gave up a two-out home run to Ha-Seong Kim. The Reds still led, 2-1, and Abbott was replaced by Lucas Sims. And he gave up a long-distance home run to Tatis Jr., tying it, 2-2, and wiping away Abbott’s win.
But he remains 4-0 with a 1.21 earned run average and the Reds have won all six of his starts
Manager David Bell continues to carry a magic button in his back pocket. With two outs and nobody on in the eighth, he sent Stuart Fairchild up to pinch-hit for Jake Fraley against Tom Cosgrove. Fairchild, just summoned back from Class AAA Louisville, fell behlind 0-and-2, then drew a walk.
San Diego manager Bob Melvin replaced Cosgrove with Nick Martinez and Bell sent Stephenson up to pinch-hit for Votto.
One pitch. Two runs. As the ball disappeared over the right field wall, Stephenson tossed away the smoking bat, blew a bubble, and embarked on his triumpant tour.
“Any situiation, when you come off the bench, it is not like early in the game, when you have time to get loose,” said Stephenson during an interview with Bally Sports Ohio. “Really, from the git-go, if you get a good pitch, you gotta be ready because that could be your only good pitch.
“It was a cutter that just happened to stay flat out over the plate and it just happened to get out, which was sweet.,” he added
All the runs Abbott seemed to need was provided in the fifth inning by much-underrated rookie Spencer Steer.
With two outs and nobody on, Padres pitcher Tim Hill did the Reds a mammoth favor by hitting Votto with a pitch when Votto was 0 for 19 with 10 strikeouts.
When a pitcher has two strikes on Steer, the pitcher is in a danger zone. Steer does his best work with two strikes. And so it was on this at bat.
Steer hit one in the direction of Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport. HIs home run covered 441 feet and made a safe landing deep into the upper deck.
It was Steer’s 14th homer, 50th RBI and gave the Reds a 2-0 lead.
As it is with many effective pitchers, if a team doesn’t get to him early, they don’t get to him. And so it was with Abbott.
With one out in the first, superstars Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto singled. Non-plussed, Abbott struck out Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts.
Those two strikeouts launched Abbott on a perfect stretch of 15 straight Padres retired.
It ended in the sixth when he issued his only walk, a one-out pass to Kim. Then Cincinnati’s illustrious defense came to his aid.
Tatis hit one headed toward center field. Shortstop Matt McLain made a diving stop and flipped the ball ouit of his glove at second base. Second baseman Jonathan India made a lunging bare-handed catch. Then he enacted some Fred Astaire footwork to find the bag for a forceout.
Soto singled to put two on with two outs and right fielder Jake Fraley sprinted to the side wall and snatched the foul ball out of the front row.
After the Padres tied it and Stephenson’s big bash, a seemingly tired closer Alexis Diaz came on to pitch the ninth.
He got the first two outs, then gave up a single to Gary Sanchez and a run-scoring double to Jake Cronenworth to cut the lead to 4-3. Pinch-hitter Rougned Odor lined hard to India at second base and another chapter in this storybook season was in the books.
“The past few years it has been a grind,” said Stephenson after the Reds won the series two games to one against a team that had beaten them 14 of the last 17 games. “With this group, it is pretty special what we’ve got. It is a lot of fun, everybody pulls for each other, nobody is selfish.”
There were 37,714 mostly Reds’ supporters in the stands and Stephenson said, “It’s everything. Obviously it is the complete opposite from last year. Other than Joey (Votto) me and everybody else has never seen the stadium like this. This is insane. We love it.
The Reds continiue to roll despite two members of the lineup encased in slumps. In addition to Votto’s 0 for 19 with 10 strikeouts, since hitting for the cyle nine days ago, Elly De La Cruz is 5 for 35 (.143) with 13 strikeouts and one extra base hit.
But Steer, McLain, Will Benson and Stephenson are picking up the slack.
Before the game, the Reds made their near-daily flurry of roster moves. They activated relief pitcher Derek Law from the injured list and recalled outfielder Stuart Fairchld, after an 11-day stay at Class AAA Louisville.
And after horrible relief appearances in Saturday’s 12-5 loss, Eduardo Salazar was optioned back to Louisville and Alec Mills, who made his Reds debut Saturday and gave up five runs (two earned), four runs and two walks in one inning, was designated for assignment.
Since June 1, counting usage of the injured list, recalls and demotions, the Reds have made 71 transactions. . .and counting.