CINCINNATI — Dusty Baker is fond of saying that offense is fun and defense is hard work.
And we all know what hard work does. As they say, it pays off.
“If you are going to win, you have to play defense,” the Cincinnati Reds manager said. “All people look at is offense. But if you give away outs, it is going to cost you. Take away outs (great plays to take away hits) is big-time to your benefit.”
Exhibit A in Cincinnati’s case for the defense was a 4-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers Friday night. They made four above-and-beyond plays, any one of which could have led to defeat had the play not been made.
— Catcher Ryan Hanigan, back from his first game after a stretch on the disabled list, flattened himself out on the game’s second hitter (Jean Segura) to make a diving snag on a sacrifice-bunt attempt.
— Third baseman Todd Frazier stopped a sizzling grounder with two on and one out, raced to third for a force play and ripped a throw to first for an inning-ending double play, “Against a guy who can fly (Carlos Gomez),” said Baker.
— Left fielder Derrick Robinson sprinted the 50-yard dash from straight away left field to the left-field corner to snare while on the run a line drive hit by Yuniesky Betancourt that was double-bound.
— And the crème de la crème of the night was a play made by second baseman Brandon Phillips.
It is good to wow the boss and when Phillips wowed the boss, he wowed The Big Boss.
Shortly after the Reds completed their 4-3 victory, Reds CEO/President Bob Castellini walked out of the clubhouse and asked me, “Have you ever seen a double play like that?”
Frankly, no. Not in 41 years of covering the Reds. But then again, that was Brandon Phillips, the best second baseman I’ve ever seen — not just the Reds, but anywhere on this planet.
He makes an astounding, jaw-dropping, head-shaking play at least once a week, sometimes twice.
On Friday night, he was above and beyond this baseball universe.
The Reds led just 3-2 in the seventh inning and the Brewers had two on and one out with Ryan Braun battling Sam LeCure on a 3-and-2 count. He fouled off four pitches and on the 10th pitch he bounced one up the middle.
Phillips barged over from his position to near the bag. Not only did he field the ball near the bag, he fielded it barehanded. Not only did he field it barehanded, he fielded it barehanded on the short hop.
Not only did he field the ball barehanded on the short hop, he dropped to one knee to do it and tagged second base with his knee for the force out, then threw to first base for the rally-killing double play.
To sprinkle sugar on it, Phillips came up in the bottom of the seventh and drove his seventh home run into the left-field seats, a home run that turned out to be the game-winner when the Brewers scored a run off Aroldis Chapman in the ninth.
“That’s the best double play by a second baseman I’ve ever seen,” Baker said. “Brandon practices all kinds of stuff. You never know when it is going to come in handy. He is one of the best I’ve ever seen at that position. And he works at it.”
Said Phillips, “Our team is defense and pitching. I don’t know how I made that play, but I’m glad I made it. I took a gamble to try to turn the double play. I would have used my glove but I knew it was going to be a short hop. If it had hit my glove, it probably would have hit the bag.
“I just took a chance and I’m thankful I made the play,” he said. “I’ve practiced short hops with my bare hand but I never had a bag in the way. I’ve never fielded a a short hop barehanded by the bag before. That’s a first.”
The beneficiary of Phillips’ play was Sam LeCure and afterward Baker smiled and said, “I’m surprised LeCure didn’t run back to second base and give Brandon a kiss.”