There were about three weeks to go before spring training began. Chris Heisey was working out at home with a friend, hitting baseballs in the batting cage but not hitting them the way he wanted.
Cincinnati Reds' Chris Heisey (28) is congratulated by Brandon Phillips (4) and Billy Hamilton (6) after Heisey hit a bases-loaded single off St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Carlos Martinez to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning of a baseball game, early Thursday, April 3, 2014, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati won 1-0. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Al Behrman / AP
By Kevin Goheen
CINCINNATI -- There were about three weeks to go before spring training began. Chris Heisey was working out at home with a friend, hitting baseballs in the batting cage but not hitting them the way he wanted.
He just wasn't comfortable.
Frustrated, he somehow got himself to relax. Don't tense up the shoulders so much. Hold the bat around chest level and let things go from there. It couldn't hurt. Other approaches he'd tried the past few years hadn't worked so why not try this?
Heisey started feeling good in the batting cage. He felt good in spring training, even on those days when he didn't get a hit. He felt real good early Thursday morning.
Heisey, pinch-hitting for pitcher J.J. Hoover, laced a single to left field with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning against a drawn-in infield with an extra defender to give the Reds a 1-0 win against St. Louis at Great American Ball Park. A two-hour, 45 minute game that followed two hours and 40 minutes of a rain delay ended with one solid hit by Heisey off of St. Louis reliever Carlos Martinez. It ended 17 innings of offensive futility by the Reds. No Reds team has ever started a season with a longer scoreless streak.
With one swing of the bat, Heisey and the Reds can now just relax.
"Nothing like sitting around for about 10 hours, getting one at-bat and doing something good," said Heisey. "That's the ups and downs of pinch-hitting. You get a hit, you feel great. You don't, it's your one at-bat and you've failed. It's nice to get a hit and have it be a game winner at the same time."
Heisey's base hit ended the game at 12:35 Thursday morning. It was the first win for manager Bryan Price. It was the Reds' first win after seven consecutive losses, including the final six games of last season. After a 1-0 loss to the Cardinals on opening day when St. Louis' Adam Wainwright and four relievers blanked the Reds on three hits and spoiled the debut of Johnny Cueto, the Reds were caught in another scoreless battle once the rains subsided.
This time it was Tony Cingrani of the Reds and Michael Wacha of the Cardinals trading zeroes. Cingrani went seven innings, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out nine. St. Louis got one base runner as far as second base against him.
Wacha was equally as stingy and unrelenting when it came to giving up any offense. The Reds had just three hits against him, although they twice had runners reach third base. They struck out seven times against Wacha, giving them 19 strikeouts in two games against Cardinals pitching. Then again, St. Louis has struck out 21 times in the two games.
The teams have combined for one hit in 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Heisey has that one hit.
Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier led off the bottom of the ninth with singles to left field. Zack Cozart, who had twice robbed St. Louis batters of hits with sprawling dives to catch balls that seemed destined to fall for hits, put down a sacrifice bunt that moved Ludwick and Frazier up a base. Martinez intentionally walked Brayan Pena to bring up Heisey.
Martinez is one of an over-abundance of St. Louis relievers with flames shooting from their pitching arms. Heisey is well aware of that fact but he wasn't concerned with it.
"When you don't feel any tension like I didn't have tonight, you don't get overwhelmed by velocity," said Heisey. "We've been working in the cage on really getting the machines ramped up there to see that velocity. Even today, during the game when I was in there getting loose we had the machine in there kind of humming it. You can't hit that velocity being tense. I've tried for four years and it hasn't worked."
Heisey fouled off Martinez's first pitch, a 97-mph fastball. He got another 97-mph fastball on the second pitch.
Game over as Ludwick crossed the plate.
"He was in a tough spot because Martinez throws that hard sinker, 96 to 99-100 miles an hour and powering the ball into you," said Price. "To me, that's what made it such a good matchup because Chris can hit the fastball extremely well regardless of velocity."