By Hal McCoy
Defense is spelled d-e-f-e-n-se, but on
Saturday night in Citi Field it was spelled S-t-e-e-r, I-n-d-i-a and B-e-n-s-o-n for the Cincinnati Reds.
Spencer Steer, Jonathan India and Will Benson made outstanding late-game defensive plays to preserve a 3-2 victory for the Reds over the New York Mets.
And it enabled the Reds to stay in step with Arizona in the argument for the third wild card spot. The Diamondbacks beat the Chicago Cubs and remained tied with the Reds.
The Miami Marlins also won and remain a half-game back. The San Francisco Giants dropped a doubleheader to the Colorado Rockies and have fallen two games back.
With the Reds clinging to a 3-2 lead, constructed on a two-run home run by Christian Encarnacion-Strand in the fourth inning, Steer entered the game in left field for the seventh inning.
He barely had to get into his defensive crouch when Francisco Alvarez lined the first pitch deep into the left field corner. Steer blazed to the corner and snagged it.
One batter later, Pete Alonzo popped one behind first. Second baseman India ran a long, long way and speared it with a snag.
Benson started the game in left field and was moved to right in the eighth inning. Jeff McNeill lined one toward the right-center wall. Benson, sprinting like a world class 100-meter dasher, plucked it out of the air.
All that was left was for closer Alexis Diaz to finish it in the ninth. . .expect Diaz was not available after pitching in three of the previous four games.
Instead it was Derek Law strolling to the mound after his bullpen predecessors — Daniel Duarte, Sam Moll and Fernando Cruz had retired 11 straight Mets.
Law retired the first batter, but pinch-hitter Daniel Vogelbach broke the spell with a single. Brandon Nimmo flied to center but Alvarez singled.
That put the potential tying run on second and the winning run on first with Pete Alonso digging in at home plate, representing 45 home runs and 112 RBI.
After an eight-pitch battle, Alonso pulled a 2-and-2 pitch on the ground ball to third baseman Nick Senzel. He threw to second for the game-ending out, the Reds’ 34th one-run victory in 60 one-run games.
The Reds gave rookie left-hander Andrew Abbott an extra two days of rest and he wasn’t sharp. But he battled.
It took him 91 pitches to get 11 outs, but despite giving up six hits and three walks, he was touched for only two runs over his 3 2/3 innings.
He opened the game by retiring the first two Mets, then issued a ful count walk to Alonso, followed by back-to-back singles by Francisco Lindor and Ronny Mauricio for a 1-0 New York lead. He stranded two by getting Jeff McNeill to pop up.
Mark Vientos led the second with a single, but Abbott induced a double play from Tim Locastro.
Abbott retired the first two in the third and again trouble surfaced. He issued to walks and an infield single to load the bases.
No problem. He struck out Vientos.
When he gave up a double with one out in the fourth and a two-out run-scoring double to Alvarez, his night was over.
The once-maligned Reds bullpen, suddenly one of the best in baseball in these toughest of times, took it from there — no runs, two hits (both off Law in the ninth), one walk and three strikeouts.
The Mets put runners on base in each of the first five innings, but stranded eight with only two scoring.
After the Mets took the 1-0 lead in the first, the Reds used their bold and aggressive base-running to score a run in the second.
TJ Friedl singled and with two outs Encarnacion-Strand singled, sending Friedl to third. CES stole second and Mets catcher Alvarez threw the ball away and Friedl trotted home to tie it, 1-1.
The decisive blow was big blast in the fourth. With one out, Joey Votto walked. Encarnacio-Strand’s lift-off two-run home run didn’t land until it traveled 428 feet far over the center field wall.
All that was left was for the three defensive gems and for the bullpen to do its due diligence.