By Hal McCoy
With an Alex Cobb-Andrew Abbott match-up, fans expected a pitch-to-pitch grind-it-out affair Thursday afternoon in Great American Ball Park.
They were half right
Abbott, the Cincinnati Reds rookie left-hander, was as untouchable as Eliot Ness, while his teammates took apart Cobb, San Francisco’s 34-year-old All-Star pitcher.
The result was an easy 5-1 Reds victory to split the series at two games apiece.
Abbott (5-2) silenced the Giants on no runs, one hit, two walks and six strikeouts. The hit was a double in he fourth inning by Luis Matos.
He pitched eight innings, the longest start by a Reds starter this season, a 106-pitch clinic. Had he not gone to full counts on five hitters, he might have pitched a complete game.
Instead, Derek Law pitched the ninth and blemished the shutout when he gave up a two-out home run to Wilmer Flores, his fourth home run of the series.
The Reds, though, gained no real estate on first-place Milwaukee. The Brewers shut out Philadelphia, 4-0, to maintain a 2 1/2 game spread on the Reds in the National League Central.
The Giants were so frustrated it appeared they wished they could order some runs and hits from Amazon.
When Casey Schmitt struck out in the third inning, swinging at ball four on a full count, he pounded his bat in the dirt. Joc Pederson tried to bunt with two strikes in the fifth and fouled it for a strikeout.
The real frustration surfaced in the fifth when Wilmer Flores opened the inning with a walk. With two outs, Matos hit his double when left fielder Will Benson made a circuitous route chasing it.
Flores, more a miler than a sprinter, tried to score from first. Major mistake. Shortstop Elly De La Cruz took Benson’s relay throw and fired a 99.8 miles an hour strike to home plate.
Catcher Luke Maile could have made a phone call before Flores arrived and he was out from here to there and back to here again. De La Cruz’s throw was the hardest throw on an infielder’s assist since StatCast began tracking throws in 2015.
Cobb? He entered the game with a 6-2 record and a 2.87 earned run average. The Reds were neither intimidated nor impressed.
In 4 1/3 innings, they scored five runs on nine hits, the second most runs off Cobb this season. And he did not strike out a single batter.
Cobb opened the third by walking Benson. Number nine hitter, Luke Maile, who is Abbott’s personal caddy/catcher, unloaded a 423-foot two-run home run deep into the left-center seats.
That’s all the runs Abbott (5-2) needed, but the Reds added two in the fourth. Jonathan India doubled and Christian Encarnacion-Strand singled him home. Benson doubled and CES circled hls way home for a 4-0 lead.
They added one more off Cobb in the fifth on a one-out double by Jake Faley and a run-scoring single by India. When Cobb walked Joey Votto, his short day that seemed long was done.
In addition to his home run, Maile added two singles to Cincinnati’s 12-hit assault. Fraley, India and Benson each chipped in two hit
With three catchers on the roster, Maile sees limited playing time. But because of the rapport he and Abbott develped together in the minors, Maile has caught all nine Abbott starts.
And he had a startling statment about Abbott’s day during a post-game interview with Bally Sports Ohio.
“He just competed and I would say it was probably in the bottom half of his stuff in terms of all his starts,” said Maile. “He had to really fight through some stuff, but he made big pitches. He is just such a great competitor and keeps it in the zone enough.
But. . .Eight innings? No runs? One hit?
“It means he has a lot of composure and he doesn’t feel like a rookie out there,” said Maile. “It feels like he has been doing this for a long time.”
Maile has only 106 platae appearances, some few and far apart, but he has four homers and seven doubles.
“It is about as tough as you want it to be,” said Maile about his lengthy times between strapping on the gear. “It is a decision you have to make (to approach it). You’d like to be in a little more of a rhythm, but at the same time they have to throw it over the white part (of home plate) sometime. You might as well be ready for it.”
In Maile’s case, he is ready, willing and oh so ready.
The Reds begin a three-game series Friday night against a mirror-image team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, a young team that is aggressive.
The Diamondbacks, second place in the National League West behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, came within a few outs of sweeping the Atlanta Braves this week.
They won the first two and led Game 3 by 4-1 in the seventh. But the Braves scored two in the seventh and four in the eighth to win, 7-5.