By Hal McCoy
The most highly-anticipated arrival of a prospect to join the Cincinnati Reds since Jay Bruce unfolded Tuesday night in Great American Ball Park.
Elly De La Cruz arrived with the pomp and circumstance of a newly-crowned monarch.
And manager David Bell not only threw him right into the fire, it was the Bonfire of the Vanities. He was placed in the clean-up spot to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first rookie to make his debut in the clean-up spot for the Reds in 82 since a guy named Frankie Kelleher in 1941.
And by the way, De La Cruz’s new teammates showed him the spunk and spark they possess with a walk-off win in the ninth-inning, 9-8.
It came via an incredible come-from-behind extravaganza. They were down, 8-3 after four innings via a grand slam home run by Freddie Freeman in the fourth.
But the Reds pecked away by scoring single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh.
Still they trailed, 8-6 in the ninth and scored three runs on two hits, three walks and a hit batsman.
With the score tied, 8-8, and the bases loaded with one out, the other rising star, Matt McLain, lobbed a walk-off single to center field. Just three weeks ago, McLain and De La Cruz were teammates and best buddies at Class AAA Louisvillle.
Caleb Ferguson started the ninth for the Dodgers and gave up a full-count walk to Spencer Steer. Tyler Stephenson; rolled a ground ball single to right field.
Kevin Newman, playing with a split lower lip and swollen cheek after a foul ball glanced off the protective netting in front of the stands and hit him in the face in the second inning, popped out. It was the last out the Reds would make.
Stuart Fairchild walked on a full count to fill the bases. Ferguson walked Curt Casali, also on a full count, forcing in a run and it was 8-7. He then hit Jake Fraley with a pitch, forcing in another run and it was 8-8.
LA manager Dave Roberts brought in Shelby Miller to face McLain and he delivered the game-winner with his third single.
The Dodgers scored three runs in the top of the first against Reds starter Luke Weaver, but the Reds matched it with three in the bottom of the first against LA starter Tony Gonsolin.
Gonsolin had given up only one run in the first three innings of his seven starts, one run in 21 innings. But a two-run single by Stephenson plated the inning’s third run.
Manager David Bell brought in lefthander Alex Young to face the lefthanded Freeman with the bases loaded in the fourth inning. With Freeman, it doesn’t matter if the pitcher is lefthanded, righthanded or ambidextrous. He unloaded the bases for an 8-3 lead.
And that was it for the Dodgers. The Reds bullpen of Young, Fernando Cruz, Ian Gibaut and Eduardo Salazar held the Dodgers to no runs and one hit over the final 5 1/3 innings.
The 20-year-old De La Cruz performed admirably.
With the fans cheering his every twitch and flinch and chanting “Elly, Elly, Ellly” each time they caught a glimpse of him, De La Cruz drew two walks and drilled a double off the right field wall at 112 miles an hour, the hardest hit ball by a Reds player this season.
Obviously the Dodgers were aware of the reputation that preceded De La Cruz’s arrival. They pitched him with extreme caution and care.
He walked on a full count and scored a run in the first. His first major=league hit was the screaming double off the wallp in the third on an 0-and-2 count. He walked again in the third and the 22,602 in Great American Ball Park booed lustily.
With runners on third and first in the sixth, he ended the inning with a scorching ground ball to second base that left the bat at 109 miles an hour. He took a called strike in the eighth.
Home plate umpire Carlos Torres had a game-long problem with the strike zone for both teams. Bell had seen enough after a called strike on Stephenson in the fifth inning.
He protested vehemently and was demonstrative after he was ejected. Young also was ejected after the sixth inning, but he already had been removed by substitute manager Freddie Benavides.