CINCINNATI — There is a TV commercial for an insurance company that shows Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame outfielder Andre Dawson being pulled head-first out of the ivy on the left field wall in Wrigley Field and Dawson asks, as if he has been in there for years and years, “What year is it?”
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They could do the same thing for the Cincinnati Reds. They could padlock Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan into a small trunk, tug it open and have him pop up and say, “What year is it?”
It is 2012, of course, and Nostradamus and the Mayans did a lot of prognosticating about this year, but they didn’t mention anything about the Reds.
But could it be 1975 or 1976 or 1990, years the Reds were allowed to wear World Series championship rings after the season ended?
If you judge the Reds by this September, they could be the 1961 New York Mets or any Washington Senators teams of the 1950s or even this year’s Houston Astros.
They averaged only 3.2 runs a game and scored three or fewer runs in 15 of their 27 games. They scored no more than six runs in any game and scored six twice.
So everybody figured these were a Memorex version of the 2010 Reds, who also won the National League Central and then bowed out to the Philadelphia Phillies in three straight, which included an embarrassing no-hitter shoved down their pallets in Game One by Roy Halladay.
Then they went to San Francisco. Talk about a transformation. Talk about a resurrection. Talk about a leisurely walk down Fisherman’s Wharf.
It was is the 2012 Reds walked into the team’s Hall of Fame and Museum and took every bat used by The Big Red Machine.
They won Game One, 5-2. They won Game Two, 9-0. The San Francisco Giants were left on the AT&T grass in a Jell-O puddle.
So on Tuesday night, at home in Great American Small Park, they have the opportunity to be the sweeper instead of the swept-away. With a win, they advance to the National League Championship series against either the Washington Nationals or the much-despised St. Louis Cardinals.
What would the 1975 Reds have done in Game One of their first playoff game if Don Gullett had thrown eight pitches and left with back spasms? They would have put another pitching into the game and gone about their business.
But who ever thought the 2012 Reds could do the same thing after their ace, Johnny Cueto, left with back spasms after eight pitches? They did what the ’76 Reds would have done.
Manager Dusty Baker, doing his best Sparky Anderson imitation, stuck Sam LeCure in for 1 2/3 innings of perfect work. Then starter Mat Latos volunteered his relief services and pitched four innings of one-run baseball.
And two guys who had used their bats in September for nothing more than shoulder epaulets came alive against All-Star starter Matt Cain.
Brandon Phillips unscrewed the olive bottle with a two-run home run in the third and runs began to roll out.
Jay Bruce, enmeshed in one of his frequent slumps, ripped a home run halfway to Sausalito and Phillips added a run-scoring single in the eighth, his third hit and third RBI.
Just to make folks remember exactly who the Reds usually are — pitching and defense — they added four above-and-beyond defensive plays, two by left fielder Ryan Ludwick, one by Joey Votto and one by Brandon Phillips.
So much for Game One. Game Two was a plaintive call for comparisons to the Big Red Machine.
In the 9-0 rampage, the Reds ripped 13 hits, at least one by every starting regular. Votto had three hits. Phillips had two more. Ryan Hanigan had two hits and three RBI. Bruce had a two-run double.
Defense? Who needed it with Bronson Arroyo, long blond hair flowing in the San Francisco breeze, was Eliot Ness revisited — Untouchable.
The first two Giants hit the ball hard, very hard, but both balls were caught. From then on, Arroyo was breezier than the night air. He retired the first 14 before giving up a two-out single in the fifth Brandon Belt. He retired 20 of the first 21 before issuing a two-out walk to Buster Posey in the seventh, Arroyo’s last inning.
For those seven innings of one-run, one-walk pitching, Arroyo hit every numeral between 71 and 90 on the miles per hour chart, changing speeds like The Roadrunner avoided Wile E. Coyote.
So that sets things up for Game Three Tuesday, with Homer Bailey a stand-in for Johnny Cueto — and that could be a good thing.
Bailey is only one game removed from his no-hitter in Pittsburgh and if he and the Reds can finish the Giants in three straight that means Cueto and his back get a few extra days off before he would pitch in Game One of the NLCS.
No, the 2012 Reds are not The Big Red Machine. Not yet. But if they play the rest of the way the way they played the first two games in the postseason, somebody better send a memo to a maintenance engineer to dust off a spot in the trophy case for another World Series trophy.