The inning was so awful, the happenings so bizarre, I don’t even have the heart to rip the Reds.
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As second baseman Brandon Phillips put it, if Aroldis Chapman’s 102-mph fastball had actually hit Chase Utley leading off the seventh, then Utley probably would have been “on the ground.”
And, as Phillips and manager Dusty Baker saw it, if second-base umpire Ed Rapuano had made the proper call on an attempted one-out force at second, then Utley would have been out.
Right fielder Jay Bruce lost a ball in the lights, and the Reds disintegrated faster than a cheesesteak in the palms of a 300-pound man.
Believe it or not, the Reds tied for the fewest errors in the National League in the regular season, setting a team record for fielding percentage.
But their effort Friday night included four errors, three hit batsmen, six walks and a blown 4-0 lead, and now their first postseason appearance since 1995 is just about over.
The Phillies, happy recipients of the Reds’ 7-4 gift, lead the Division Series two games to none. No NL club has ever rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the DS. Only four AL teams have managed such a feat since the inception of the DS in ’95.
The Reds talked bravely afterward, but Friday night was their chance. They fared much better against Roy Oswalt than they did against Roy “No Hit” Halladay. They ended their 30-inning scoreless streak at Citizens Bank Park when Phillips led off the game with a homer. They got a strong start from right-hander Bronson Arroyo, who allowed one earned run in 5 1/3 innings.
And then the mess began.
Two errors leading to two runs in the fifth. Two hit batsmen and a bases-loaded walk in the sixth. A 4-3 lead entering the seventh, and Chapman on the mound.
Chapman got ahead of Utley 0-2 with a 100-mph fastball and an 88-mph slider. His next pitch was the one that may or may not have hit Utley’s right hand.
Plate umpire Bruce Dreckman ruled that it did, but Utley can now join Derek Jeter on the growing list of nominees for a special new baseball category at the Oscars, “Best Fake Job on a Phantom Hit by Pitch.”
Utley didn’t react as demonstratively as Jeter did at Tropicana Field in September, but do De Niro and DiCaprio approach a scene the same way?
“Yeah, he got hit,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, bidding for best supporting actor. “Yeah, he was hit, yeah. He got hit.”
“It was pretty close. At first, I thought it was going to hit me in the head. Fortunately, it didn’t. And he throws so hard. I felt like I thought it hit me, so I put my head down and I ran to first.”
Did it actually hit you?
“I’m not sure.”
Chapman rallied to strike out Ryan Howard on three pitches, fastballs clocked at 100, 99 and 101. Jayson Werth followed with a seemingly innocuous grounder to third. Scott Rolen, trying to keep the tying run out of scoring position, threw to second for the force.
Rapuano ruled safe. Phillips reacted with disbelief. Baker left the dugout to argue, but later called Rapuano “one of the best umpires around.”
Then Jimmy Rollins stepped to the plate.
Flyball to right. Probable second out. Momentum to the Reds with the left-handed hitting Raul Ibanez waiting to face Chapman.
Only Bruce never saw the ball. Never touched it.
Bruce made no excuses. He insisted he did’t lose the ball in the thousands of white towels the Phillies fans were waving. He said the lights are “exceptionally bright” at Citizens Bank Park, but that he’d never lost a ball like that in Philadelphia before.
“I felt pretty helpless,” Bruce said. “It’s embarrassing. Who knows what would have happened if I had caught it?”
Reasonable question, considering that Phillips also made an error on the play and two runs scored to give the Phillies a 5-4 lead.
“Jay Bruce is a Golden Glove outfielder, Brandon Phillips is a Golden Glove second baseman, Scotty Rolen was a Golden Glove third baseman, and those guys rarely make mistakes,” Baker said.
“You can see by our fielding percentage, and how we take pride in our defense, that was a very uncommon night for us.”
No argument — the Reds even were second in the NL in defensive efficiency, a statistic that measures the percentage of balls in play converted into outs.
Phillips, Bruce and most of the other Reds lack postseason experience, and Baker conceded that might be a factor. But while the Reds beat themselves Friday night, enough fluky things happened to excuse their performance — somewhat.
If a game like this happens in the regular season, a team just shows up the next day ready to play.
Alas, the Reds’ next day could be their last day.
A no-hitter in Game 1. A nightmare in Game 2.
Heaven only knows wha’ll transpire in Game 3, Sunday in Cincinnati.