CINCINNATI — It’s amazing what one swing of the bat can do for a team in a game. And to a column.
This was the lead I had ready to go with one out in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s Reds game with the Pirates:
“The Reds are in a collective offensive funk.”
That perspective shifted when Jay Bruce took Pittsburgh closer Jason Grilli 417 feet deep into the Great American Ball Park seats in right field to erase a 1-0 deficit and send the contest into extra innings, where the Reds eventually won 2-1 in 13 innings on an RBI single by Brandon Phillips.
The fact is the Reds are scuffling at the plate. Part of that is the Pirates’ pitching staff — its collective 3.34 ERA entering the game was third best in the National League, while its 12 shutouts lead all of Major League Baseball — but this really isn’t anything new for the Reds this season. They’ve been inconsistent hitting with runners in scoring position. That wasn’t the case Wednesday as much as just getting some runners on was a problem.
But Bruce’s 14th home run of the season, which handed Grilli his first blown save in 26 opportunities, changed the complexion of the game and the series. The Reds were two outs away from being shut out in consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 30-31, 2011 against the Phillies. Now, they have a chance at taking three out of four games from the Pirates and provide a bit of a buffer between them as the two teams chase first place St. Louis in the NL Central.
“Needless to say, we were pretty quiet all night,” said Bruce. “I’m glad I could extend the game until we took care of business later on. It would’ve been nice if we could’ve done it in regulation but you know how that goes.”
These are going to be games the Reds will typically find themselves in more often than not as the season progresses and the schedule gets tougher. They’re going to have to find ways to win games even when things aren’t going their way. They had just four hits in Tuesday’s 4-0 loss and were held to just four hits before Bruce’s home run Wednesday by the combination of starter Jeff Locke and reliever Mark Melancon.
The lack of offense nearly wasted the stellar performance of Bronson Arroyo and the bullpen. Arroyo allowed one unearned run in seven innings while the bullpen of Tony Cingrani, Alfredo Simon, Aroldis Chapman, Sam LeCure and Manny Parra shutout the Pirates on three hits over six innings.
Pittsburgh’s defense helped keep the Reds off the board; a 5-4-3 double play hit into by Phillips wiped out a scoring chance in the first inning and Zack Cozart was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on a double by Ryan Hanigan in the second inning. It took a perfect relay throw from the outfield by Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte to second baseman Neil Walker, who was in perfect backup position behind shortstop Jordy Mercer, to catcher Russell Martin to get Cozart.
“It’s one of those things where you play the game as hard as you can and, I’ll tell you what, that’s a good team over there,” said Bruce. “They’re a very good team, they play the game the right way. They’ve obviously proven that throughout the season. … They’re a good team, the Cardinals are a good team. Top to bottom, from pitching to defense to offense. It’s probably going to be like this the whole year. That’s what we expect.”
Phillips was a topic of discussion before the game. Since returning from a four-game absence to rest a bruised forearm (suffered when he was hit by Pittsburgh reliever Tony Watson on June 1), Phillips was hitting just .176 (9-for-51) with one home run and 12 RBI in 12 games. That home run and six of the RBI came in one game at Chicago.
Manager Dusty Baker said Phillips’ issue was simply trying to do too much. He was too aggressive and chasing too many pitches out of the zone.
Despite going hitless in his first five at-bats (0-for-4 with a walk) before coming to the plate in the 13th against reliever Vin Mazzaro, Phillips had a better night. He did strike out in the fourth inning and hit into a double play in the first but he was patient in his at-bats. He took a couple of pitches without helping the pitcher out unnecessarily.
“It feels good to come through for the team,” said Phillips. “I’ve been trying to do things, especially when you’re not feeling right, you try to do things that are not normal. I just let the ball come to me. I felt better today. Maybe that one will get me right and I’ll start coming through with runners in scoring position.”
That’s something the entire offense would like to happen.