By Hal McCoy
While they were in the process of splicing together 100 losses last season, when a left-handed pitcher appeared on the mound the Cincinnati Reds acted as if they were facing a Sasquatch or a Yeti..
They were17-29 against southpaw starters. As has most else about this year’s team, that has changed dramatically.
Matt McLain was not a part of that mess and Spencer Steer was a small part as a late-season call-up.
So when the Arizona Diamondbacks starter left-hander Tommy Henry, 5-2 with a 3.89 earned run average, it didn’t faze the Reds.
They roared to a 9-6 victory Friday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, moving to within 1 1/2 games of first place Milwaukee.
With the win, the Reds are 19-12 against left-handed starters, one more win than they had all of last season.
Steer provided three runs with an infield out in the first and a bases-loaded two-out, two-strike double in the fourth that gave the Reds a 4-1 lead.
The Diamondbacks crept to within 4-3 in the top of the fifth. Then came a wild fifth inning that was punctuated by McLain’s grand slam home run during a five-run inning.
Henry retired the first batter in the fifth and manager Torey Lovullo decided Henry had enough.
He brought in flame-throwing right-hander Justin Martinez. That’s when things got bizarre.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand singled to center. Tyler Stephenson grounded to second baseman Ketel Marte and he flipped it to shortstop Geraldo Perdomo. But he missed tagging the bag and both runners were safe.
Will Benson bounced a ground rule double to score CES, extending the Reds lead to 5-3 with runners on third and second with one out.
Even though Elly De La Cruz is shrouded in a 2 for 31 hibernation, Lovullo decided to intentionally walk him, filling the bases.
It almost worked. Martinez struck out pinch-hitter TJ Friedl for the second out. Almost.
Martinez slipped two 101 miles an hour fastballs past McLain. He tried another, even harder. It was a 102 miles an hour 0-an d-2 fastball.
McLain shot it to right field, over the right field wall, his first grand slam. It was the fastest pitch any Reds batter ever hit for a home run since StatCast began recording it in 2015.
That gave the Reds a 9-3 lead.
“Yeah, it was a good feeling,” said McLain during a post-game interview with Bally Sports Ohio. “I was fired up and my teammates were fired up.
“I had to make an adjustment. I was a day late on the first two pitches,” McLain added. “I was a little early on the next one and got good wood on it.”
During a six-game losing streak before the current three-game winning streak, the Reds were Team Slump, but some have pulled out of it — McLain, Steer, Jonathan India, Will Benson.
But the Reds have won three straight despite three regulars enmeshed in near idential skids. De La Cruz is 2 for 31, Joey Votto is 2 for 28 and Tyler Stephenson is 2 for 28.
“It’s all part of baseball, there are ups and downs,” said McLain. “You have to ride the highs and get through the lows as fast as you can. It is all about making adjustments and competing to win.”
But the Diamondbacks didn’t put away their bats after McLain’s stinging dagger.
Fernando Cruz struck out the first two in the seventh. Then he gave up a home run to number nine hitter Alek Thompson, walked Perdomo and Marte, who homered in the first, homered again, cutting the Reds’ lead to 9-6.
Marte lined Reds starter Ben Lively’s fourth pitch of the game for his first home run ane a 1-0 Arizona lead.
So when the Reds came back to take the 4-1 lead and hang on, it was their 33rd come from behind victory.
It came against the second-place team in the National League West, a team fresh from taking two of three from the Braves in Atlanta.
Lively only lasted 4 2/3 innings and gave up three runs and four hits. He was followed by the usual long procession out of the bullpen —Alec Young, Buck Farmer, Cruz, Lucas Sims and Alexis Diaz.
All produced with the exception of Cruz. And Sims lived in the danger zone in the eighth.
He issued a pair of walks with one out and the next two Arizona batters nearly tied it with home runs. Pinch-hitter Dominic Calzone, an Ohio State product, sent center fielder Friedl to the wall to snag his drive. Then Gabriel Moreno hit one to Friedl on the warning track.
With baseball’s weird scoring rules, Young threw three pitches in the fifth after replacing Lively, retired rookie sensation Corbin Carroll on a fly ball, the only batter he faced. and was credited with the win, lifting his record to 4-0.
Diaz has become more efficient as the season progresses. Strikeouts are down, but results are the same. He pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with no strikeouts for his 28th save in 29 opportunities.
Rookies McLain, Steer and Encarnacion-Strand took care of offensive matters by driving in eight of the nine runs — four by McLain,three by Steer and one by CES..