CINCINNATI — One has to go back 66 years to recall a Gracie Fields song called, “Now is the Hour.” But if it is applicable anywhere right now, it is applicable to the Cincinnati Reds.
The hour is upon them.
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Seven of their next 10 games are against the St. Louis Cardinals — three in St. Louis beginning Monday and four in Cincinnati beginning next Monday.
If they have any pretense of winning the National League Central instead of settling for the one-game lose-and-out wild card spot they must manhandle team they’ve barely been able to put a finger on.
To make it work against St. Louis, the Reds need to find a different way. They’ve lost eight of their first 12 to the Cardinals, most of them by wide margins.
They battered the Cardinals the first game they played, 13-4, but it has been plug ugly since. The Cardinals have scored in double figures against the Reds four times and have beaten them by seven or more runs five times — twice by 10 runs and once by 13.
“It is our biggest and most important stretch of the year against one teams,” said manager Dusty Baker. “That’s until we play six of our last nine games of the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates.”
Baker, though, hasn’t lost his sense of humor. On Sunday morning, with the media surrounding his desk, his phone rang and when he answered he said, “Hello, Tony.”
When the conversation was finished and Baker hung up, somebody said, “That was nice of Tony LaRussa to call you.”
Baker smiled and said, “Yeah, he was wishing us good luck against the Cardinals.” Of course, it wasn’t the former Cardinals manager on the line, it was another Tony, but Baker played along with the gag, even though it is well-known that Baker and LaRussa would only exchange Christmas cards if somebody else opened the cards.
“We’d rather have it like this, where we can do it ourselves, rather than depend upon somebody else,” said Baker.
As he spoke, the Cardinals and Pirates were tied for first and Baker flashed an impish grin and asked, as if he didn’t know, “Where are we? Second place? Two-and-a-half games back.”
Yeah, he knew.
And he knows what needs to be done, even after the Reds finished a homestand Sunday with a 3-1 loss, losing two of three to the Milwaukee Brewers.
“When the season begins you know the road to the championship goes through St. Louis,” he said. “It has for years. Only this year there is a third member on the road to the championship (Pittsburgh).
“That doesn’t change anything,” said Baker. “You still have to beat them and we haven’t beat them very much as of late. Things can change. They’re beatable. You see some teams beating them lately, teams you wouldn’t think could beat them — ala Cubs.
“They are an outstanding team, some of the best hitting in the world,” Baker added. “You look at the stat sheet and they have four or five guys in the Top Ten in most categories. They had more All-Stars than anybody, didn’t they? We have to beat them and they can be beat. We have no choice.”
Baker then paused and said, “But say all you want about the Cardinals — and the Pirates — but we’re still here. We haven’t gone away We’re still here.”
The pitching alignment seems to favor the Reds in two of the three games in Busch Stadium. It begins Monday with Mike Leake (11-5) vs. Tyler Lyons (2-4), then on Tuesday it is Mat Latos (13-4) against Joe Kelly (5-3). The Reds send Homer Bailey (8-10) against Adam Wainwright (15-7) in the series closer Wednesday night.