One big swing ends 15 years of futility for Reds
An hour later, the Cincinnati Reds’ long overdue party was still
going full-spray in the infield.
MVP candidate Joey Votto puffed on a soggy cigar and blew clouds
of smoke into the cool night air. Mohawk-adorned outfielder Jonny
Gomes traipsed across the grass in a white robe that covered his
beer-and-champagne-soaked uniform. Players gathered for an
impromptu celebration photo on the mound.
And Jay Bruce? In the back row of the photo, but hardly in the
background of team history. Not after he’d just ended 15 years of
futility with one dramatic swing.
Bruce led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a homer on the
first pitch, bringing Cincinnati its first title since 1995 with a
3-2 win over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.
”When he hit that one up there, there was a big sigh of relief
and the party was on,” manager Dusty Baker said. ”I’m as happy as
a man can be. This is sweet. This is a special group, special guys
and a special feeling.”
And a special ending.
The Reds celebrated their NL Central title a day after
Philadelphia clinched its fourth straight NL East title – no
surprise there. But the Reds’ recent history made them a most
unexpected playoff team.
Cincinnati hadn’t reached the postseason since 1995, when Davey
Johnson took them to the NL championships series, then lost his job
because owner Marge Schott didn’t like him.
After that, the Reds lost their way.
The team went through three owners, five general managers and
seven managers without once making it back to the postseason. They
came close in 1999 under Jack McKeon, losing a playoff for the wild
card to the Mets. Ken Griffey Jr. arrived the following year,
raising expectations for a long run of division titles.
Instead, the bottom fell out.
Griffey came and went. The Reds plunged into a streak of nine
straight losing seasons, their worst in a half-century. Nobody gave
them much chance to overtake the defending champion St. Louis
They got into the race in May and didn’t crack, pulling away at
A crowd of 30,151 – well above average for a weekday night –
showed up to see the Reds secure the title on their first try at
home. Fans reveled when left-hander Aroldis Chapman hit 101 mph
while retiring the side in the ninth, a preview of those playoff
appearances to come.
Then, Bruce quickly ended the game and started the party with
his second career game-ending homer off Tim Byrdak, raising both
index fingers as he rounded the bases.
Eight years after Great American Ball Park opened, the home
clubhouse was about to get soaked for the first time.
”There’s nothing like it,” said Bruce, receiving eye-stinging
sprays from bottles of champagne and 24-ounce cans of beer.
Across the clubhouse, owner Bob Castellini cradled a box of
cigars in his left arm and a bottle of champagne in his right hand,
blinking away errant drops of spray.
”We’re not finished, but it doesn’t get any better than this,”
It was an emotional night for Baker, who won his fourth division
championship as a manager.
He joined Bill McKechnie as the only managers to take three NL
teams to the playoffs. Nine have taken three different teams to the
playoffs overall – McKechnie, Johnson, Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland,
Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Joe Torre and Dick Williams also did
Baker’s father, Johnnie, died last November after a long illness
and was never far from his mind on Tuesday.
”It’s really special for me this year because I think about my
dad a lot,” he said. ”Last year was very difficult. Every
midnight call I got I thought was about my dad. He wasn’t supposed
to live past the All-Star break, then he wasn’t supposed to live
until August, then he wasn’t supposed to live until September. He
lasted until I got home.
”So I just knew when the season started that my dad was with me
The Reds won’t be a postseason favorite, given their
inexperience and their struggles against other top teams. They’ve
gone 58-28 against losing teams, only 30-41 against those with .500
or better records.
For them, just getting there was a soppy breakthrough.