CINCINNATI — Brandon Phillips stood in front of his locker in the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse, eager as always to slip into his baseball uniform and make the world go away.
As manager Dusty Baker described his feisty and talented second baseman, “He’s like Pete Rose. Baseball is a sanctuary away from the world. There are those who like to play baseball and there are those who love to play baseball.”
And Baker knows which category in which Phillips resides. Yes, he loves to play baseball. On the other hand, he hates to lose baseball games.
As the Reds began play Monday night at home against the San Francisco Giants, they had shuffled home Sunday night from an eight-game trip to Arizona, Texas and Oakland in which they won only two games. They slithered from second place, 2 ½ games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, to third place, 5 ½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And it rankles Phillips.
“We want to win, and we don’t want to let the city down,” said Phillips, knowing that some fans need to be coaxed off the railings of the Brent Spence Bridge and the Roebling Bridge near Great American Ball Park.
Fans are restless and relentless after the 2-6 trip and the 5 ½-game deficit, despite the fact the 46-36 Reds are one game better in the won-lost column this year than they were at the same point last year. And they won the National League Central last year.
“It really stinks that some of our fans are counting us out, jumping off the bandwagon, but the (front runners) will come back,” he said. “I understand how they feel, but trust me on this, we’re not losing on purpose. We’re trying our hardest. We’re just turned down right now. We’ll turn up soon, I promise.
“We’ve been turned down and hopefully now we can get turned up so our swagger can come out and we can get things going,” said Phillips.
Phillips says he doesn’t remember and doesn’t care what last year’s record was at this time. It’s a new year, a new team, a new challenge.
“The difference is that we have two other teams in our division (Pittsburgh, St. Louis) who are playing very well right now,” he said. “What it was last year doesn’t really matter.
“Right now Pittsburgh is showing the world that they’re serious,” Phillips added. “We can’t be worried about what everybody else is doing. We have to be worried about ourselves. If we don’t win, it doesn’t matter what they do.
“We need to go out and play Reds baseball, play some ball and hit in some key situations because we haven’t been doing that,” he said.
Over one 100 at-bat span with runners in scoring position, the Reds had eight hits (.080) and left enough runners on base to populate a small Amazon village.
“I have to do better than I’m doing and everybody does, too — that’s why they call it a team.”
It’s a Good Thing/Bad Thing for the Giants to be in town. On the good side, the Giants have lost seven of their past eight regular-season games in Great American Ball Park. On the bad side for the Reds, the Giants came to Cincinnati last October after losing two National League Division Series games in San Francisco and swept three games from the Reds to knock them out of the playoffs.
And the Giants went on to win the World Series and Phillips said, “That could have been us.
“They haven’t been playing that well, just like us, but the Giants find a way to get it done. That’s the kind of team they are. I have emotion and I’m still hungry, especially after the way they came to our place and beat our butts. You learn from the mistakes you made last year,” said Phillips.