By Hal McCoy
Jonathan India was in danger of being fitted for a golden sombero, emblematic of striking out four times in a game, when he walked to the plate in the seventh inning Friday night in Citi Field.
New York Mets starter David Peterson struck out India the first three times India batted.
Instead, India donned the viking helmet, the head gear placed on a Cincinnati Reds player when he hits a home run.
And what a mammoth wallop it was, a two-run rip that was the difference in a 5-3 Reds vicory over the Mets.
The victory kept the Reds a half-game ahead of Miami in the pursuit of the third wild card spot after the Marlins beat the Atlanta Braves, 9-6.
The Reds begain the night tied with the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks, both of whom had late games Friday.
Just moments before India’s home run, with the Reds leading, 3-1, the Mets put two on with two outs in the home sixth.
Pitcher Hunter Greene gave up only one hit through five innings, but gave up singles to Brandon Nimmo and DJ Stewart in the sixth.
Awaiting his turn in the batter’s box was Pete Alonso, owner of 44 home runs and 109 RBI.
Manager David Bell trudged to the mound, usually meaning the pitcher had the rest of the night off. But Bell uttered some quick words and left Greene to face Alonso.
Big, big mistake. Alonso turned on Greene’s 98th pitch, a 2-and-2 fastball and sent it 425 feet deep into the left field seats, a drive into a stiff wind blowing in as a remnant of Hurricane Lee.
That tied it, 3-3, but relief pitcher Grant Hartwig started the seventh by hitting Reds catcher Luke Maile on the hand with a pitch.
India then unloaded his 411-foot line drive over the left field wall to push the Reds back in front by two, 5-3.
Matters turned shaky for the Reds in the bottom of the seventh. Lucas Sims walked Ronny Mauricio, balked him to second and walked Rafael Ortega, placing runners on second and first with no outs.
Bell replaced Sims with Ian Gibaut and he pulled a magic trick. Mark Vientos hit into a double play and Omar Narvaez grounded out and it stayed 5-3.
Problems over? Oh, no. And it was Alonso again.
Gibaut started the eighth and walked Brandon Nimmo on nine pitches. In his last three at bats Nimmo saw 28 pitches. And with one out, Stewat singled again.
With two on and one out, Alonso waited near the batter’s box while Bell walked to the mound to replace Gibaut with Alexis Diaz.
There were no heroics by Alonso this time. He flied to shallow center and the inning ended when McNeill flied to deep center, leaving matters at 5-3.
Diaz gave the Mets the silent treatment in the ninth, 1-2-3 with two strikeouts, for his 37th save.
So once again the bullpen cleaned it up for the Reds. The bullpen leads MLB with 50 saves, owns a 44-27 record with a 3.81 earned run average and leads the majors with 552 appearnces.
After scoring a run in the fifth on two Mets errors and a wild pitch in the fifth, Spencer Steer, arguably the Reds MVP, blasted his team-leading 22nd home run, a two-run crusher that gave the Reds a 3-0 lead.
Greene always wears uniform number 21 and, of course, wore it Friday night, but in honor of Roberto Clemente Day, he removed his name from the back of his jersey.
And he did Clemente proud by holding the Mets hitless for four innings until Jeff McNeill doubled off the right field fence leading off the fifth. He advanced to third with one out, but Greene struck out Ortega and coaxed a ground ball from Vientos to preserve the 1-0 lead.
When a manager sees 65 different players dress in his clubhouse and uses 40 different pitchers, his lineups and batting orders are bound to be widely different.
And they are for Reds manager David Bell. On Friday, he won his 77th game with his 125th different batting order and his 130th different lineup, not counting the pitchers, in the 149th game.
For the second straight game, 21-year-old rookie Elly De La Cruz was not in the lineup.
Since the All-Star break, De La Cruz is hitting .181 with 88 strikeouts, 12 errors and eight caught stealings.
He is 1 for his last 20 and since hitting a home run on August 23, he has not hit another in 20 games over 91 plate appearances.