McCoy: Reds serve up a ‘double’ Martini in 8-2 win

By Hal McCoy

There is nothing in the Wide World of Baseball like Opening Day in Cincinnati. The pomp and circumstance is palpable.

No other franchise has an Opening Day parade and then Great American Ball Park becomes the red sea — red hats, red sweaters, red jackets and on semi-frigid days like Thursday’s 2024 Opening Day, red hoodies and red parkas.

And it turned out to be a red-letter day for the Cincinnati Reds, perhaps a message to all baseball afficionados: “Look out baseball world, we’re real, we feel it, better stay out of our way.”

The Reds decimated the Washington Nationals, 8-2. With 161 games to go, there was no champagne celebration.

Just a Martini celebration.

Nick Martini, 33 and participating in his first Open Day game for any team, dramatically homered in his first two at bats and drove in five runs. They resurrected the Viking helmet and Martini was fitted with it twice.

This is a Cinderalla story in which both glass slippers fit. Martini languished in the minor leagues for seven years, hoping some day to never see the inside of another long-distance bus.

From the looks of Thursday, it appears some front office ostrich heads missed badly on Martini.

He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh round of the 2011 draft out of Kansas State University. It wasn’t until June of 2018 that the Oakland A’s called him up.

He played 61 games for the A’S, 26 for the San Diego Padres and 25 for the Chicago Cubs through 2021, with a one-year stop in Korea.

It was a long and winding road full of chuck holes and road blocks for Martini. The Reds actually claimed him off waivers from San Diego in November of 2019,

He never made it to Cincinnati in 2020, was put on waivers after the season and the Philadelphia Phillies claimed. But the only way he saw a major league game was to buy a ticket or watch on TV.

Then it was back to the Reds, signed in February of last season as a free agent. Although at 33 he was at retirement age for some players, he was part of the Reds mostly youthful call-ups late last season.

And although he had hit only two home runs in his previous 108 games, he flexed for six homers in 79 at bats for the Reds.

Then came his Opening Day splurge, joining Frank McCormick (1941) and Adam Dunn (2007) as the only players to hit two home runs on Opening Day for a franchise that stretches back to when Ullyses S. Grant was President.

He homered in the second with one on and homered in the third with two on.

Martini was the designated hitter, batting eighth. In the first three innings, the first four Reds hitters were 2 for 10.

But the bottom five — Jake Fraley, Elly De La Cruz, Spencer Steer, Martini and Tyler Stephenson combined to go 7 for 9, producing seven runs.

It all began in the top of the second when Jake Fraley wiped away his tears and led the second inning with an infield hit.

Before the game, he said, “I’ll probably cry during the National Anthem.” Which he did, thinking about his 5-year-old daughter, diagnosed during the off-season with leukemia. She is in remission.

The benficiary of the run explosing was newcome Frankie Montas, a surprise Opening Day starter choice by manager David Bell. Due to shoulder soreness and surgery, Montas appeared in exactly eight games the past two seasons, only 1 2/3 innings last season with the New York Yankees.

Bell’s choice over Hunter Greene brought on iron-weighted criticism.

But Montas, making his 100th MLB start on the day on his 10th wedding anniversary, sent batter after batter muttering after feeble at bats that producded meager pop-ups and slow-rolling grounders.

For his six innings, Montas gave up no runs, four hits, walked none and struck out four, doing it with the efficiency of a master chef. . .only 81 pitches.

Montas heard the criticism and read the criticism and tossed them to the side of the road.

“To be honest, I was just going out there to try to have fun, just put up a good performance,” he said. “I know what I can do when I’m healthy and people know what I can do when I’m healthy.

“I’m not trying to live up to what people think and their expectations,” he added. “Is this the Frankie Montas from a couple of years ago? No, this is the Frankie Montas of 2024.This is the healthy Frankie Montas, this is the healthy version of me.

“I’m just going out there without thinking about what other people think, just try to do my job and compete.”

And what did everybody think? Wow, with a capital W.

Before the game, Cincinnati native and Moeller Hgh School product Brent Suter said, “I’ll probably tear up, get emptional.”

He has always wanted to pitch for his hometown team and the dream materialized in the eighth inning. Pitching on adrenaline, he made the Nationals tear up by striking out the side in the eighth. And he finished the game with a 1-2-3 ninth and another strikeout.

But the 44,030 seated inhabitants went home jabbering about the two baseballs Martini directed into the right field seats.

“It was special to he ahle to do it with these guys, guys I played with in Triple-A last year. . .an unbelievable group that supported me through everything,” he said.

When told he was only the third wearer of a Reds home run to hit two Opening Day home runs, he said, “That’s crazy. I never would have known that. It’s special and I really don’t have a ton of words.. . .just special.”

He said it with his bat while Montas and
Suter said it with their arms.

Martini had ample help —two hits and two runs scored by Fraley, a hit, a walk and two runs scored by De La Cruz, two hits, two RBI and two runs scored by Steer.

Jonathan India, playing only because Matt McLain is out after shoulder surgery, had a walk and a hit and was smooth at second base, fieldiing five early-game chances flawlessly.

There were only a couple of negatives. Infielder Jeimer Candelario’s Cincinnti debut was strikeouts his first three at bats. And relief pitcher Emilio Pagan’s debut was to give up two-run homer to Eddie Rosario.

It was a fun afternoon for the Reds, tempered a bit by the knowledge that most pundits predict a last place finish for the Nationals in the National League East.

Normally on Open Day, the flyover is with Air Force jets. On this day, it was a pair of slow-moving helicopters, apropos in matching Washington’s sloggy offense.



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