CINCINNATI — Go figure. The Reds hadn’t hit a home run in more than seven games, covering 251 at-bats and 283 plate appearances when Billy Hamilton stepped into the box to leadoff the fifth inning Tuesday against Chicago’s Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija had allowed just one home run this season back in the first inning of his second start against Philadelphia’s Chase Utley.
So, of course, Hamilton took Samardzija 397 feet deep into the right field stands at Great American Ball Park, tying the game 2-2 with his first career home run as the Cincinnati area was bracing for a rain storm.
It was just part of a night of the sublime at the ballpark, a night that included three rain delays totaling one hour, 45 minutes and Cubs manager Rick Renteria getting tossed before the Reds pulled out a 3-2 victory to snap a three-game losing streak and kick off an important home stand.
Chris Heisey’s pinch hit RBI single with two outs in the sixth inning drove in Zack Cozart with what proved to be the winning run. Cozart, owner of a .148 batting average entering the game, tripled into the right-center field gap to get into scoring position.
The Reds offense is still a work in progress but it is showing it doesn’t need the long ball to be successful. Being swept three games in Atlanta last weekend was as much a product of the Braves’ top-ranked pitching staff as it was any hitting struggles. Getting the kinds of contribution that Hamilton provided Tuesday was a perfect example.
Hamilton produced his third three-hit game of the season, scored twice and was on base all five times. He followed up his home run with a second infield hit in the sixth inning.
"I’ll take two infield hits any day," said Hamilton. "It’s a good thing that (the home run) happened because it was a big run but I’d rather have the infield hits."
The first month of the season is nearly complete. Hamilton is hitting .244 with an on-base percentage of .281 but since starting the season hitless in his first 12 at-bats and going 2-for-22 he has settled into his approach and is gradually getting better. He’s now hit in 10 of his last 13 games and is hitting at a .294 average after those first 22 at-bats.
"It’s nice to know that the power is there but the power can be seductive, too, at times," said manager Bryan Price. "The thing is I’ve never seen Billy look like he’s trying to hit the ball out of the ball park and give away at-bats trying to get the ball in the air. He’s been very cognizant of really trying to stay on top of the ball and shoot line drives and ground balls through the infield."
Hamilton playing his game got the Reds their first run. He walked on five pitches against Samardzija in the first inning. Hamilton stolen second base and then went to third on a wild pitch. Joey Votto walked and then Brandon Phillips hit a drive that right fielder Ryan Kalish caught a step in front of the wall. While Phillips just missed his second home run of the season it was good enough to bring Hamilton home. It was just the fifth RBI of the season for Phillips, just his second since April 9, and his first one at home.
Jay Bruce followed with a sharply hit line drive but left fielder Ryan Sweeney tracked it down and the Reds would end up stranding two in the first. The Reds ended up leaving 11 runners on base and were just 2-of-8 hitting with runners in scoring position. Their Nos. 2-6 hitters — Votto, Phillips, Bruce, Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick — were just 2-for-16 with one RBI in the game.
It’s still a work in progress but there isn’t any panic or concern when it comes to the Reds offense. Hitting long balls isn’t everything. St. Louis recently ended a drought of 366 at-bats without a home run, so the Reds were well off of that when Hamilton broke his team’s streak.
"I was aware of it only because I had looked at our home run numbers in our stat pack awhile back and then it was there again when we were in Atlanta," said Price. "In the end, we’re all about just winning the game at the end of the day. The last thing we want to do is get these guys thinking about getting outside of their approach. I think, with the exception of the Atlanta series, we’ve done some nice things offensively of late and I don’t want to get away from that."