Reds clinch party delayed with 10-inning loss
CINCINNATI -- Maybe it was written in the winds that the Cincinnati Reds wouldn't clinch the National League Central championship Friday night.
All they had to do was beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and their second championship in three years was there.
But their leader wasn't there, manager Dusty Baker wasn't with them. The man who made it work all season with mix-and-match lineups was 295 miles away in a Chicago hospital bed undergoing tests and observations for an irregular heart beat.
He is the man who scuffled to patch the bullpen when three relief pitchers went down during spring training -- two for the entire season (Ryan Madsen, Nick Massset) and one for most of the season (Bill Bray). He is the man who spliced together lineups for nearly six weeks when the team lost its best player, Joey Votto, to knee surgery.
Ironically, while Baker was in a Chicago hospital bed Friday afternoon, the Chicago Cubs were not far away in Wrigley Field beating the St. Louis Cardinals in extra innings.
That reduced Cincinnati's magic number to '1' Friday night -- a win over the Dodgers would clinch it.
It didn't happen. And maybe it was the baseball gods who said it wouldn't be right to do it without Baker in the dugout, so the Dodgers scored a 3-1 victory on a two-out 0-and-2 two-run single by Matt Kemp off Sean Marshall.
So the magic marker keeps the magic number at '1' for another day, an 11-game lead with 11 to play.
Acting Manager Chris Speier was 6-0 as a stand-in for Baker over the years, so the defeat was his first.
The door to Baker's office was closed before Fridays game and it is rare that the door is shut because Baker operates under an Open Door Policy.
So for the third straight game Speier managed the team, but he says it is with a heavy heart.
"Bottom line, I'm worried," said Speier. "You have your good, good, good close friend in the hospital. He's fine. He had some fluids and they wanted to make sure that was clear before putting him on a plane. But you worry. He's our leader. For me, a dear, dear friend. My mind is more with him than it is about this game."
Baker made out the two lineup cards in Chicago, but Speier put together Friday's and it included the return of Zack Cozart at shortstop (batting second), the absence of Ryan Ludwick (groin tightness) and Drew Stubbs batting seventh.
"I've backed off contacting Dusty because he hasn't had much rest," said Speier. "When you are in the hospital they poke and prod you about every hour so out of respect for his rest and what he needs to do I've left him alone.
"As for the game, there is such a trust built up between us that he knows things will be taken care of here," Speier added. "What's great about this club is the character. Everybody pulls their boot straps on and we've never had to worry about leadership. Dusty is the head guy and they know that. They're professionals and they know what they need to do.
"Everybody in here within the organization wants Dusty to partake in this," said Speier. "The reality is that e need to stay focused and think about his health and his well-being foremost. This, clinching, is going to happen and it would be great to have him here. But everybody on the team wanted it to happen to tonight -- really, really, really wanted to get it."
They tried hard during Dusty's absence. Starter Bronson Arroyo pitched eight innings and gave up one run and six hits, using up only 88 pitches. And when the Dodgers walked catcher Ryan Hanigan in front of him intentionally in the fifth inning Arroyo slapped a single to left to score the Reds' only run.
"It's too bad because Arroyo pitched a phenomenal game against a real potent lineup, but we couldn't get anything going offensively," said Speier.
The Dodgers, trying to grab a wild card, scored their winning runs off Sam LeCure and Sean Marshall in the 10th.
LeCure had a 2-and-2 count on Elias Herrera and hit him in the back with a pitch. A.J. Ellis bunted and first baseman Joey Votto made an ill-fated late and wide throw to second trying to get the lead runner and everybody was safe.
"That was the aggressiveness of Joey Votto, but there is a time for that," said Speier. "But Herrera is a good runner and we needed to take the out there and see how it played out."
It didn't play out well for the Reds.
Nick Punto bunted the runners to second and third and Mark Ellis walked to fill the bases with one out. Marshall came in to strike out Andre Ethier for the second out, but after Marshall put Kemp behind 0-and-2 Kemp pulled the two-run single to right.