CINCINNATI – Until the Reds mounted a too-little, too-late rally in the ninth inning Sunday, the loudest cheers from the crowd at Great American Ball Park had come about 30 minutes earlier. That’s when the Bengals wrapped up their season-opening win at Baltimore with a fourth down stop of the Ravens.
Two runs in the ninth inning weren’t enough to save the Reds from a 4-3 loss to the New York Mets.
They were enough to produce the 35th one-run loss of the season, the most in Major League Baseball.
The National League Central division was a four-team race back in July. It was easy to look ahead at the schedule and see the Reds finishing the regular season with 19 division games, starting with Monday’s series opener against St. Louis. The Reds have gotten used to playing meaningful games in September the past four years, and while they certainly had deficiencies to overcome this season it wasn’t unrealistic to think they could hang around and be a factor in this pennant race.
Now the only way they will factor into the race is as a spoiler. Now they’re more concerned with staying ahead of the Cubs for last place.
Bryan Price isn’t juggling his lineup to find the right matchups in pivotal games. He’s left to figuring out ways to get playing time for guys like Donald Lutz and Yorman Rodriguez, guys who haven’t been with the big league club all season or contributed much at this level, so the organization can get a jump on evaluating their potential roster for next season.
"It can’t be at the expense of a ton of playing time for the guys who are our regulars," said Price after Sunday’s game. "I imagine each of the regulars will get at least one more day off before the year’s out, maybe more, but they won’t find themselves in a platoon situation with a kid who’s up from Double-A or Triple-A."
The Cardinals come to town with a widening margin in the division. Since passing free-falling Milwaukee in the standings, St. Louis has built a 41â2-game lead over second place Pittsburgh. The Pirates are in possession of the second wild card spot, having leapfrogged Milwaukee and Atlanta on Sunday. The Brewers are in third place in the division, five games behind St. Louis after losing 11 of their last 12 games.
The Reds (67-76) are a season-worst nine games below .500 and are a season-high 12 games behind the Cardinals. Sunday they figured out a new way to lose a game. For the first time since Aug. 3, 2010, they lost a game while not allowing an earned run.
Billy Hamilton dropped a fly ball from Wilmer Flores on the warning track with one out in the sixth â just his second error of the game â which led to a three-run inning for the Mets, including a two-run home run by Anthony Recker off of starter Mat Latos. Curtis Granderson led off the eighth inning with a solo home run off of J.J. Hoover but it also was unearned. Jack Hannahan dropped a foul ball early in the at-bat that allowed Granderson to stay alive.
"Two plays that those guys are going to make 999 out of a thousand (times) and they were obviously costly," said Price. "We were hoping we could win that game and we wouldn’t have to talk about that part of the game. We just fell short by a run. It was disappointing."
Last season Hamilton was the buzz as a September call-up. He started a handful of games but was mainly utilized as a pinch-runner for the obvious reasons. September was important to him last year as he was getting his first taste of the big leagues.
September is important to him this year as he wraps up his first full season with the Reds. Sunday’s error aside, he is attempting to close out on a strong note.
"This is the month that everybody gets to a point where you’re tired and you just want to lay down but you’ve got to grind out every at-bat and every game. You’ve got to come ready to play every day," said Hamilton, who was 1-for-4 plus a walk in the ninth inning. "Even though we’re not playing well, you’ve still got to grind out every single at-bat every single day. September is always a grind, no matter what."
It’s just not the September the Reds were hoping for.