By Hal McCoy
The Cincinnati Reds were afforded the opportunity to take a three-game lead into the All-Star break Sunday afternoon, but a couple of former Reds said, “Nope, not today, fellas.”
Former Reds pitcher Wiley Wade Miley pitched six shutout innings and former Reds All-Star outfielder Jesse Winker drove in the only run as the Milwaukee Brewers prevailed, 1-0.
Nevertheless, the Reds remained in first place by one game in the National League Central go take their All-Star rest with 50 victories, the first time they’ve won that many since 2014.
And at the All-Star break last season they were 34-57, 15 games out of first place and entrenched in last place.
Milwaukee’s leadoff batter in the first inning, Christian Yelich, lifted a fly ball that left fielder Spencer Steer misjudged and it plopped to earth for a double. Winker, batting fourth with his .197 batting average and one home-run, drove a two-out run-scoring single to right and that was it.
They could have called the game right then.
The Reds had won seven straight road serie, but lost this one two games to one, enabling the Brewers to take the All-Star rest one game behind the Reds.
It was a frustrating afternoon for the usually potent Reds’ offense. They struck out 14 times. They were 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position, stranded six and the last 11 batters made out.
They were not opportunists on this day that they usually are.
Like Yelich, Kevin Newman led the Reds first with a double, but Miley retired the next three, the last one on a line drive to second base by Elly De La Cruz with Newman on third.
Miley retired nine straight until the Reds got another leadoff double, this one by Matt McLain in the fourth.
That really riled up Miley. He struck out the next three, Jonathan India, De La Cruz on three pitche and Steer on three pitches.
Miley suffered a temporary lapse in the fifth when he walked three batters, his only three walks. He issued the first to Joey Votto on a leadoff 3-and-2 pitch.
But Brewers third baseman Brian Anderson made a terrific backhanded stop on Nick Senzel and turned it into a 5-4-3 double play. Miley walked Tyler Stephenson and TJ Friedl, but once again he bowed his back and struck out Newman on three pitches.
India and De La Cruz punched back-to-back one-out singles in the sixth and guess what Miley did? He struck out Steer and Votto grounded out sharply to shortstop.
That ended Miley’s day of escapes — six innings, no runs, four hits, three walks and eight strikeouts, matching his season-high in whiffs.
The last nine Reds went down harmlessly the last three innings against three Milwaukee bullpenners.
Elvis Peguero pitched a 1-2-3 seventh with two strikeouts, Joel Payamps pitched a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts and closer Devin Williams recorded his 20th save with a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts. He finished with a flourish, striking out Votto as six of the last nine Reds were strikeout victims.
Ben Lively came off the injured list after 2 1/2 weeks and did some solid pitching.
After Winker’s single that plated the only run, Lively walked Owen Miller on a full count to put two on, but he retired Raimel Tapia on a fly to center.
Lively retired seven straight after Miller’s walk before issuing a leadoff four-pitch walk to Winker in the fourth. Lively then did his Wade Miley impersonation by getting Miller on a fly to right, then striking out Tapia and Anderson.
When he gave up a two-out single to Miller in the sixth, Reds manager David Bell went to the bullpen and brought in Alex Young to face Tapia. He drove one to left that pinned Steer to the wall, but he caught it.
For his 5 2/3 innings, Lively gave up one run, four hits, walked two and struck out five.
The Reds’ bullpen was not as efficient as Milwaukee’s, but kept the Brewers off the scoreboard — scoreless appearancess by Young, Derek Law and Ian Gibaut.
Gibaut enacted an escape act in the eighth when he gave up a single to William Contrera and a double to Willy Adames, putting runners on third and second with no outs.
Winker popped to shallow left and third baseman De La Cruz made a wide receiver over the shoulder catch with his back to the infield.
Bell ordered an intentional walk to Miller, filling the bases with one out. It worked as precisely as Bell planned it. Blake Perkins hit into a 4-3 double play.
But the Reds couldn’t solve Milwaukee’s pitching mystery and fell to 20-16 in one-run games. The Brewers are 16-7 in one-run affairs.
Not onlly did the Reds get blanked, but they didn’t hit a home run, ending their club record streak at 22 straight games with at least one homer.
The perplexing thing for the Reds is that they are 2-and-5 this season against the Brewers and Milwaukee comes calling to Great American Ball Park for three games after the All-Star break.