By Hal McCoy
What Graham Ashcraft constructed in seven innings, the Cincinnati Reds bullpen blew apart in two innings Wednesday afternoon in Great American Ball park.
Ashcraft, after a magnificent seven innings, turned over a three-run lead to the bullpen and when the smoke cleared the Miami Marlins owned a 5-4 victory.
Of all the 57 losses handed the Reds this season, this was probably the ugliest and the most stunning.
First, the eighth. With the Reds on top, 4-1, Sam Moll gave up a three-run game-tying home run to Josh Bell, his second home run of the game. That tied it, 4-4.
Second, Alexis Diaz pitched the ninth with the score tied. His first pitch fast ball to Bryan De La Cruz was punished, a game-winning home run inside the right field foul pole.
It does not pay to get involved in one-run games with the Marlins. They are 26-10 in one-run affairs. The Reds have played MLB’s most one-run games, 47, and are 24-23.
The Reds have lost seven of their last eight and dropped this series two games to one, losing both by one run.
For 12 batters, pitcher Johnny Cueto and his Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop deliveries looked as if he slipped into a wayback machine and was once again wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform.
Now wearing a Marlins uniform, Johnny Beisbol retired 11 of 12 Reds and the only batter to reach base was a single by former teammate Joey Votto.
Time caught up with him in the fourth inning when the Reds erupted for three runs on home runs by Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand.
While Cueto was the nostalgic pitcher after winning 92 games in eight seasons with the Reds and is their only 20-game winner in 35 years, it was Ashcraft who was the pitching star on this day.
And he received nothing for it but a no-decision, a pat on the back and a few well-done comments.
Ashcraft held the Marlins to one run and three hits over seven innings with one walk and seven strikeouts, his seventh quality start in his last eight starts.
Two of Miami’s three hits came in the first inning and the other was a leadoff home run in the fourth inning by Bell. The home run came one pitch after Ashcraft was called for a time violation.
Those were the only two mistakes Ashcraft made all day, other than leaving thea game, as he had the Marlins killing grass blades with 11 ground ball outs.
After a 35-minute rain delayed the game’s start, Jorge Soler opened the game with a single. With two outs, Jazz Chisholm Jr. singled to put two runners aboard, but Bryan De La Cruz grounded to second.
And other than Bell’s homer, the Marlins were baffled and bewildered by Ashcraft. It is a familiar script for Cueto. The Marlins had lost all s of his first fivse starts and scored 11 total runs. And it looked as if it would be six straight until the Cincinnati bullpen intervened.
Ashcraft’s hard work and victory disappeared in the eighth when the Marlins scored three runs off the Reds bullpen.
Ian Gibaut replaced Ashcraft and gave up a one-out single to number nine hitter Jon Berti. He struck out Soler and both Soler and manager Skip Schumaker were ejected for filling umpire Bill Miller’s ears with heated words.
Meanwhile, Reds manager David Bell replaced Gibaut with Sam Moll.
Luis Arraez flirtred with .400 the first half of the season and he came into Cincinnati batting .370. But he was 0 for 8 and hit into two double plays — then he singled in the eighth inning.
Moll’s next pitch, his first pitch to Bell, was driven over the center field wall, his second homer of the game, a three-run rip that tied it, 4-4.
And Miami’s De La Cruz put the exclamation point on it off Diaz in the ninth.
Steer was 2 for 18 when he came to bat with two outs in the fourth. On a 2-2 pitch, Steer crushed a home run that crashed off the upper deck facade for a 1-0 Reds lead. Votto, who had three hits, beat an infield dribbler for a hit. Encarnacion-Strand then dropped his two-run homer into the left field chairs for a 3-0 lead.
CES expanded the Reds lead to 4-1 in the sixth. Matt McLain ended an 0 for 14 skid with an infield hit to open the sixth. Votto singled him to third and CES singled him home.
McLain singled against Marlins relief pitcher A.J. Puk to open the eighth, then Puk struck out Steer, Votto and Encarnacion-Steer.
Then came Diaz and there went the game.
Miami closer David Robertson retired the first two Reds in the ninth easily, then Stuart Fairchild singled and represented the tying run.
Elly De La Cruz struck out on, what else, a pitch in the dirt, his 18th strikeout in 37 at bats. And he made two faux pas on the basepaths. He singled in the fifth and was out trying to squeeze it into a double. He singled in the seventh and was picked off first base.