By Hal McCoy
When the synopsis of the 2023 season is written, if the Cincinnati Reds don’t qualify for the playoffs, they can look back at September 17 as a day of infamy.
And they won’t be sending the Atlanta Braves any thank you notes.
The Reds perpetrated three errors Sunday afternoon in Citi Field that led to five runs and another scored on a wild pitch that led to a lopsided 8-4 loss to the New York Mets.
The loss dropped the Reds a half-game behind the Miami Marlins for the third wild card spot. After clinching the National League East title, the Braves played lay-down baseball against the Marlins, losing a three-game series to the Marlins by 9-6, 11-5 and 16-2.
And when the opposing team strands 11 runners and puts its leadoff hitter on base in five of the first six innngs and scores only four runs, and when the opposing pitcher, Jose Quintana, strikes out two batters in 6 2/3 innings, there is a good chance the other team will win.
That’s what the Mets did Sunday, but won because the Reds showed extreme generosity on defense.
The big blunder came in the seventh when the Reds trailed by 4-2.
Jeff McNeill led the seventh with an infield hit off rookie relief pitcher Carson Spiers. Mark Vientos hit one right to Spiers, an easy 1-6-3 double play ball.
But Spiers threw the ball into center field for an error that put runners on first and third with no outs instead of two outs and nobody on.
Spiers, one of 23 rookies to show up on the Reds’ roster so far this season, was obviously shaken by his misdemeanor and walked DJ Stewart on four pitches, filling the bases.
New York manager Buck Showalter sent up pinch-hitter Daniel Vogelbach, who is built like the biggest stevedore on the pier. First he hit one into the right field upper deck, just a few feet from a grand slam home run.
The miss didn’t bother Vogelbach. He drove one off the center field wall, a three-run double. A two-out single by Ronny Mauricio plated a fourth run and it was 8-2.
The Reds gave starting pitcher Brandon Williamson a 1-0 lead in the first with three hits, the last a two-out run-scoring single by Noelvi Marte.
But like so many Reds starting pitchers these days, Williamson could not give manager David Bell any length.
The Mets scored three runs in the second, an inning that began with a leadoff single by number nine hitter Tim Locastro.
Brandon Nimmo singled Locastro to second and with two outs Williamson walked Francisco Lindor, filling the bases.
Williamson unleashed a wild pitch that scored Locastro and Francisco Alvarez doubled into the left field corner for two runs and a 3-1 New York lead.
The Reds pulled to within 3-2 in the fifth on a 420-foot home run by Nick Senzel, tying his career best with his 12th home run.
Williamson, though, was done after four innings, struggling to hold the Mets to three runs, six hits and a walk.
The Mets scored a run in the bottom of the fifth, again with two outs that came about due to an error.
Lindor singled and was on first with two outs. McNeill grounded one right at first baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand that should have been the third out.
But it went directly between he left foot and his right foot. Second baseman Spencer Steer was backing up the play and grabbed the ball.
But CES was pondering his miscue and was late covering the bag, but got there to take Steer’s throw. McNeill was called out, but replay/review reverse it and McNeill was safe.
Vientos blooped a single to center for an unearned run and the Mets led, 4-2.
Then came the Mets’ heavy barrage in the seventh, the four-run eruption. Encarnacion-Strand blasted a two-run home run in the eighth, but it was too little and too late.
Quintano, 34 and pitching for his seventh MLB team went 6 2/3 innings and gave up two runs on eight hits, walked one and struck out two.
If only the Reds had more hitters with the record Joey Votto has against Quintano. Votto had two hits off Quintano, giving him 15 for his career against the Mets left-hander, a .600 career average, and the most hits by an opposing player against Quintano.
The Reds took two of three from the Mets and were fortunate to score 5-3 and 3-2 wins in the first two games.
The Mets stranded 26 runners in the three-game series and were 3 for 18 in the first two games with runners in scoring position. They were 5 for 15 Sunday, 8 for 33 during the series.
The degree of difficulty takes a steep climb when the Reds return home Monday. They begin a three-game series against the Minnesota Twins, occupying first place in the American League Central.