By Hal McCoy
Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City is baseball’s Yellowstone Park, the most difficult acreage in MLB to hit home runs.
And entering Wednesday night’s game against the Kansas City Royals, the Reds owned the second fewest home runs in the majors, even though they play their home games in Great American Ball Park, the easier playground to hit home runs.
So what did they do Wednesday night? The played gorilla ball, four home runs en route to a 7-4 victory that completed a three-game sweep. And with Pittsburgh’s loss at Chicago, the onrushing Reds are only 1 1/2 games out of first place in the National League Central.
And at 34-35, the Reds are one game under .500.
This one, the Reds’ fifth straight victory, was a comparative walkover after they scrimped, scrapped and scrambled for a pair of 5-4 victories in the first two games of the series.
But it did get worrisome in the ninth when the Royals scored a run on Cincinnati’s fourth error. With runners on third and second with one out, manager David Bell was forced to bring in closer Alex Diaz for the fourth time in five games.
He hit Nicky Lopez with a pitch, filling the bases with the potential tying run on first game. Then he struck out Freddy Fermin and Dairon Blanco hit into a game-ending fielder’s choice.
It was Diaz’s 17th save in 17 opportunites abd 22nd straight to tie his brother, Edwin Diaz of the New York Mets for the longest active streak. His brother is out for the season with an injury.
When the night began, the Reds had no runs and one hit in their previous nine innings. it was extended to ten innings when they 1-2-3 in the first.
Then the bombardment began against Kansas City lefthander Daniel Lynch, now 0-9 over the last two seasons. He was left in for seven innings to bite the bullet and gave up seven runs, seven hits, three walks. . .and four home runs.
With one out in the second, Spencer Speer crushed his team-leading ninth home run, a 414-footer.
The real volcanic explosion came in the fifth when the Reds cleared the walls three times.
The first was a one-out blast by Stuart Fairchild, a 386-footer.
The second was a three-run crusher by Matt McLain, the daddy of the four at 428 feet.
The next hitter, Jonathan, plastered another home run, a 409-footer.
That’d 1.637 feet worth of home runs and gave the Reds a 7-1 lead.
Two rookies, Spencer and McLain, hit homers, but Elly De La Cruz was quiet — 0 for 4 with a strikeout and a double play.
Amazingly, after the three-homer, five-run fifth, the Reds had one baserunner over the last four innings, a walk. And six of the 13 batters struck out.
The beneficiary of the Home Run Derby was Reds starting pitcher Ben Lively, whose last major league team was the Royals.
And the Royals, at 18-50 the worst team in the majors, were up to their usual futility.
The Royals had two hits in the first, second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh innings — six for seven — and scored only three runs en route to theirt ninth straight defeat.
They were 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position, stranded 14 and outhit the Reds, 15-7. For the series the Royals were 4 for 32 with runners in scoring position and stranded 30 runners while scoring 12 runs, four in each of the three games.
Lively leveled his record at 4-4, the Reds winningest starting pitcher. He gave the Reds 5 2/3s innings and gave up two runs and 10 hits.
The only negativity to emerge from this game was four errors, three by Cincinnati outfielders, two by right fielder T.J. Hopkins and one by center fielder Jose Barrero and one by third baseman Kevin Newman.
The numbers keep rising on the positive side for the Reds. They are 15-9 against lefthanded starters, they’ve won five of their last six series, 12-9 in interleague games.
And the sweep was their third this season after sweeping the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs three games each.
The schedule takes a higher degree of difficulty beginning Friday night in Houston against the Astros. After three games at home against Colorado, the Reds then face Atlanta, Baltimore and San Diego.