By Hal McCoy
The Cincinnati Reds have self-proclaimed themselves as Ameria’s Team and day-by-day they are making a huge statement.
Andrew Abbott made history Friday night in fully-packed Minute Maid Park as the Reds stopped the defending World Series champion Houston Astros, 2-1.
For the third straight time, the rookie lefthander puts nothing but zeros on the scoreboard — 17 2/3 scoreless innings, the longest stretch of scoreless innings for a rookie making his major league debut in modern MLB history.
And it was needed because his opposing pitcher, J.P. France, match him zero for zero through six innings
France’s spell was broken in the seventh inning when designated hitter Tyler Stephenson broke a 0 for 10 slide by pulling a home run into the left field Crawford Boxes.
The insurance run that turned out to be needed also came in the seventh. Will Benson, celebrated hid 25th birthday, drew a walk and scored from first on Kevin Newman’d double off the left field scoreboard.
With the win, the Reds evened their record at 35-35 and won for the sixth straight time, all on the road. After a 1-9 start, The Big Road Machine has won 11 of its last 13 road games.
Abbott pitched six innings and gave up no runs, four hits, walked two and struck out two. Not a single Astro reached third base.
He retired the first six batters before Yainer Diaz reached on shortstop Matt McLain’s error. Diaz stole second, but Abbott retired the next three.
With two outs in the fourth,Kyle Tucker singled and stole second and Jose Abreu walked. Abbott stopped it by getting a ground ball from Diaz.
Two more Astros reached base with one out in the fifth, then Mauricio Dubon popped up Jose Altuve flied to center.
During Abbott’s 17 2/3 innings he has given up no runs, and 10 hits, nine singles and a double.
“Abbott did an incredible job tonight against a really good team, what he has done every time. He’s been fun to watch. That pretty much sums up America’s Team right now,” Stephenson said with a wry smile during a post-game interview with Bally Sports Ohio.
Not if you are batting against him.
Of the Reds taking the first game of the three-game series, Stephenson said, “A huge win. Obviously, this team won the World Series last year, a packed house tonight, we came out and got a huge win.”
And six straight wins on the road and a .500 work sheet?
“Everybody is playing well right now and, obviously, our starting pitching and the bullpen has been keeping us in the game and our offense finds ways.”
Closer Alexis Diaz had a rare stutter step in the ninth inning when called up to protect a 2-0 lead.
Abrue opened with a double to left. He moved to third on a deep fly ball to left hit by Diaz, who lifted his arms in triumph, believing he had homered. Abrue scored on a ground ball. Diaz then walked Chas McCormick and he stole second, representing the tying run.
Diaz finished in with a shallow fly to center by pinch-hitter Corey Julks. It was Diaz’s 18th straight save this season and 23rd straight dating back to last season, the longest save streak by an active pitcher.
France, also a rookie, retired the first 10 Reds on 26 pitches before McLain beat an infield single and stole second. Benson’s infield hit and an error on Newman’s ground ball put two Reds on in the fifth, but Luke Maile flied to center.
And that was it for both sides until Stephenson’s homer and Newman’s run-producing double.
It was such a pitcher’s battle that neither team produced a hit with runners in scoring position. The Reds were 0 for 7 and stranded six and the Astros were -0 for 5 and stranded five.
Buck Farmer pitched the seventh and gave up a one-out double, then struck out Martin Maldonado and Dubon. Lucas Sims pitched a perfect eighth and Diaz finished with the wobbly ninth.
Elly De La Cruz, 0 for 12, sat this one out, merely a mental day off, said manager David Bell.