By Hal McCoy
For the Cincinnati Reds, it ain’t funny how time slips away.
But they are making good use of the limited time ticking away on the 2023 regular season.
When the game in Detroit began Tuesday night, the Reds were two games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks for the third and final wild card spot for the playoffs and only 17 games left to cover the deficit. And they were 1 1/2 games behind the Miami Marlins.
And both Arizona and Miami lost, enabling the Reds to creep within one game of Arizona and a half-game behind Miami.
They took one giant step forward against the Tigers in Comerica Park with a 6-5 win in 10 innings.
Manager David Bell spliced together a strange-looking lineup and batting order to face Detroit left-hander Joey Martz.
Spencer Steer was in right field for the first time, his fifth different position. Slum-ridden Elly De La Cruz, batting .181 since the All-Star break, was seventh in the batting order, the first time this season he batted lower than fourth.
And TJ Friedl was batting ninth and playing lefrt field while Harrison Bader played center field.
That meant Will Benson, Jake Fraley and Chritian Encarnacion-Strand were not in the lineup.
It worked. . .as so many things have worked for Bell in this fragile and sometimes frustrating season due to injuries. To compensate, the Reds have used 65 differenrt plaoyers, one short of last season’s club record. And they’ve used 40 different pitchers, two shy of Seattle’s MLB record of 42 set in 2019.
The 10th inning began with Noelvi Marte pinch-running as the free runner on second base. He hadn’t played for the last few games due to a broken nose when teammates Elly De La Cruz hit him in the face while they were playing catch.
But there was nothing wrong with Marte’s feet.
Tyler Stephenson singled to right field and Marte targeted home plate and made an evasive slide to score the go-ahead and winning run.
That lifted the Reds record in one-run games to an MLB best 32-25, their extra-inning record to 10-5, their record in interleague games to a major-league best 25-14.
After Stephenson’s go-ahead hit, the Reds used sharp defense to close it out in the bottom of the 10th.
Andy Ibanez was Detroit’s free runner, the potential tying run, and he moved to third on a ground ball. The Reds played the infield in and pinch-hitter Akil Baddoo grounded to second baseman Jonathan India. He threw home to easily wipe out Ibanez.
Buck Farmer struck out dangerous Kerry Carpenter to end it as the Reds bullpen was perfect — five scoreless innings, one each by Fernando Cruz, Daniel Duarte, Lucas Sims, Ian Gibaut, Alexis Diaz and Farmer.
Reds starter Brandon Williamson made his first start in two weeks, coming off the COVID-19 injured list. And his absence from the mound showed.
After he struck out the first batter in the first inning, he gave up a home run to Ibanez and five straight hits and the Tigers took a 3-0.
Detroit’s starter, left-hander Joey Wentz, entered the game with a 2-11 and a 6.55 earned run average. And the Reds made certain he lived up to those numbers.
They tied the game with three runs in the third on TJ Friedl’s one-run single and India’s two-run single, both with two outs.
Wentz retired the first two Reds in the third, then walked Joey Votto on a full count, a fatal mistake.
De La Cruz, 0 for 15, slapped a single, Harrison Bader singled for two runs and it gave the Red a 5-3 lead.
After the three-run first, Williamson settled in and retired eight straight — until the fifth. He walked Matt Vierling on a full count to begin the inning and Ibanez doubled him to third.
Cruz replaced Williamson and recorded two quick outs, but Carpenter’s two-run single tied it, 5-5.
That left it up to the Reds bullpen to silence the Tigers and it was necessary. The Detroit bullpen was just as lethal.
Wentz departed after only 2 2/3 innings and four Detroit relief pitchers shut the Reds down.
After nine innings, 13 Reds in a row were retired. The break-through in the 10th came against Detroit closer Alex Lange.
By securing one of the most important wins so far this season, the Reds recorded their major-league best 45th come from behind win.