Reds seek to establish themselves against St. Louis
CINCINNATI -- Fans and media are always looking for the angles, for the trends, for the inside story and the one this weekend involving the Cincinnati Reds is: "Is it important for the Reds to establish themselves against the St. Louis Cardinals, show themselves they are capable of beating them?"
So far this season, they've split the first four with the Cardinals, including a walk-off 6-5 victory Friday night in Great American Ball Park on MVP Joey Votto's 10th-inning two-out single.
En route to winning the National League Central championship last year the Reds mauled the division — except for the Cardinals. While they were 43-18 against the Cubs (12-4), the Astros (10-5), the Brewers (11-3) and the Pirates (10-6), they were 6-12 against the Cardinals.
On the eve of this three-game series in Great American Ball Park against the Cardinals, Reds manager Dusty Baker was asked that very question.
"I don't think in those terms," he said. "It is important we finish ahead of the Cardinals, regardless of who beats who and, no, I don't like anybody to beat me all the time. But in the end, as long as I'm ahead of you and, hell, what have we played this year? Four games (2-and-2)?
"You have to forget last year," he said. 'You have to get out of the past, get out of the history and get to the now. It is not mandatory, but it is important to play well in this series at home."
The series began with the second-place Reds trailing the Cardinals by 1½ games and Baker said, "We don't want to fall farther behind, that's most important. And we have a chance to overtake them."
Now the Reds are a half games back and can take a 1 ½ game lead if they win the final two games of the series.
When it comes to the Reds and Cardinals, their past histories over the last five years are filled with controversy and drama, adding incentive and intensity to the rivalry.
Brandon Phillips sparked a brawl last August when the Cardinals were in town by calling them out as whiners — and that's the nicest thing he said about them. And St. Louis fans reacted to his every appearance in Busch Stadium.
"Oh, I love my new nickname in St. Louis," he said. "Boo Phillips. That's my nickname there. Boo. When they say, 'Now batting, No. 4. . .,' and that's all I hear and then it's Boo. Hey, I love it when they shout out my name, even if they think it is Boo."
Although he won't ascribe any added importance to this series, Phillips says the extracurriculars make the series, "Uh, very entertaining. It adds to the ratings, like the Yankees and Red Sox. And it does give us extra determination."
As for straightening things out on the won-lost level against the Cardinals, Phillips said, "We don't have to prove anything to anybody. We already showed the world last year when we made the playoffs."
As he said this, Phillips was wearing a black tee-shirt with large letters that read, "Doubt Me." What's that all about. "People always doubt me, but they better not doubt our team."
The media tried hard to make Phillips say something controversial or dramatic about the series, but he smiled broadly and refused to nibble.
"I'm more worried about the whole homestand rather than just this series," he said. "This is really NOT a big series, not to me. Regardless of who we play, we have to win the series and that's how I feel about this – just another series."
There was a long pause and Phillips broadened his smile and said, "You guys really don't like that answer, do you? What would it be a big series, other than they in our division?"
After three with St. Louis, the Reds host Chicago for two and Pittsburgh for two, all division rivals.
"I mean, I know St. Louis kicked our butts last year but we made the playoffs and they didn't, so we say, 'So what?' It would be nice to beat them. Everybody is worried about us beating the Cardinals — and, yes, it would be a beautiful thing, but us getting to the playoffs? There is nothing better than that.
"Now that's a better answer, right? Y'all liked that one, didn't you," Phillips said. "Y'all really wanted me to say something bad about the Cardinals, didn't you?"
He said enough lat year that it doesn't take an elephant's memory for the Cardinals to remember what he said.
Phillips didn't realize that last week two of his defensive plays made ESPN's Top Ten WebGems and he said, "I did? Hmm. I got more on the way."