CINCINNATI — Mike Leake was flopped in a chair, feet sprawled out and arms dangled at his side, his face as white as a shaker of salt.
As are at least five teammates, Leake is recuperating from a flu bug that zipped through the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse like boll weevils through cotton.
Leake was supposed to start Wednesday night’s game against the Cleveland Indians, but ended up at home on the couch Tuesday watching the game on television from under a blanket, slurping chicken soup and shivering like a frightened chihuahua.
And isn’t it strange how baseball works? Shortstop Zack Cozart was infected, as were outfielder Drew Stubbs, catcher Devin Mesoraco and relief pitcher Logan Ondrusek — none able to play. And Joey Votto wasn’t feeling chipper.
So with a band of brothers that numbered only 20 semi-healthy bodies, the Reds stomped the Cleveland Indians in the first game of the Ohio Cup, 7-1 on Tuesday.
Cozart and Stubbs, also down with an oblique injury, remained out of Wednesday’s lineup. Leake is now expected to pitch Thursday afternoon against the Tribe.
“I’m a little better,” said Leake before Wednesday’s game. “But keep your distance. We’re all wondering where the source is because six or seven of us got it.”
On Monday’s off day, many team members were at an area amusement park and many hands were shaken and many autographs were signed.
Leake was fed through an IV on Tuesday and was expected to take another one Wednesday, “Because I was really dehydrated. All I felt like doing yesterday was stay on the couch.”
Votto didn’t feel A-No. 1 on Tuesday, either, but knowing several teammates were down and out, he played. And he hit a two-run home run and a run-scoring single.
“I’m better,” Votto said. “But I was never at the place those other guys were, where I needed to sit. I wasn’t throwing up or taking IV’s like the other guys. There is a line you cross for when you can’t play and the other guys crossed it. I didn’t.
“I was sick, yes, but I could play through it and did,” he said. Somebody wondered how Votto might have done if he had been healthy after his homer and run-scoring single, a reminder of when somebody asked President Abraham Lincoln what he was going to do about General Ulysses S. Grant’s drinking and Lincoln said, “Find out what brand he drinks and give it to our other generals.”
Cozart showed up at the clubhouse Wednesday, also as pale as a wedding veil, ready to take another IV bag. But he was not fit to play.
“For 24 hours I could eat nothing but chicken soup,” he said. “I had no appetite and I couldn’t even keep water down. It hit me about 1 a.m. and I called (assistant athletic trainer) Steve Baumann. “He said I was the third guy to call already and it hit everybody at about the same time. When I went to the clubhouse the next morning there were six guys taking treatment in the trainer’s room.”
Baseball managers are hit with crises all the time, but it is rare to have a flu bug ravage the team, then have the team blast the opposition, a good Cleveland team that was only a half-game out of first place in the American League Central.
“We were down to a two-man bench and it was a big tribute to Johnny Cueto for what he did,” said manager Dusty Baker, referring to Cueto’s complete game. “We were short in the bullpen and definitely short on the bench.”
“We had our resident cook (bullpen coach Porky Lopez) make some of mom’s chicken soup and garlic for the guys. We’re going medical and holistic and natural to fight it. Now it is not a matter of it being a problem, it is a matter of find a solution to the problem. The problem is already here.”
Baker expects Cozart to return Thursday afternoon and for Leake to trudge to the mound, but the heat concerns the Reds’ manager and said, “We’re filling them up with fluids. We know they’re going to feel a little weak and a little sore. And it’s a day game, in the heat, which doesn’t help. That’s not the best scenario.”