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Reds get series win over the Cubs

Cincinnati took two of three games from the Cubs over the weekend to finish their first homestand of the season at an even 3-3. Fans were treated to three classic ballgames at Great American Ball Park. There was a grand slam on Friday, lots of homers on Saturday, and a guy making his professional debut in the majors for the Reds on Sunday.

After watching this first homestand against some high-level divisional competition, I don’t think the Reds truly know how good they are. They are capitalizing on opponent’s mistakes, which is something they haven’t made a habit of doing over the last couple of seasons. And they are coming through late in games, showing some passion, drive and hustle. And in Cincinnati, it’s all about hustle.

Early on, they have been fun to watch and are playing some sound baseball. Where they have to improve over last season is their record outside the Central Division. They were 32-50 outside of their own division last year, something they’ll get to work on improving Monday night as the Reds travel to Florida for a four-game series against the Marlins. Inside the division, they had the same 46-34 as the 2009 Division Champion Cardinals.

Here are the game recaps of the series:

Game One - Reds 5, Cubs 4
What was most impressive about Friday night’s game was the way Homer Bailey battled to keep it close. The Cubs came ever-so-close to blowing it out in the early innings. It was clear Bailey had no command of the strike zone. “This is the first cold weather he’s pitched in,” said manager Dusty Baker. “You could tell he didn’t have the feel of the ball, but he battled and battled and got out of a bunch of jams. He left runners on base almost every inning.” Sorry to correct you Dusty, but he left runners on in every inning – seven total. He wound up giving up seven hits, two walks and hit two batters, but he struck out five and somehow only allowed three runs.

Bailey’s ultra-competitive nature kept the Reds in it, as I couldn’t believe Baker was continuing to trot him out inning after inning. Chicago scored a run in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th innings, but they stranded multiple guys each time and couldn’t put up a crooked number off of Bailey. Pitching coach Bryan Price made two trips to the mound (1st & 4th), and, with Bailey just under 100 pitches with little control after the fourth, I thought Micah Owings would get ready for the 5th. But Baker is the anti-LaRussa, and he wanted to give Bailey a shot at the win and so out Bailey went for the necessary 5th inning of work. Baker’s decision was golden. It turned out that the 5th inning was Bailey’s best.

Owings (W, 1-0) was outstanding in his three innings of work, and then the Reds offense connected in the 8th off of Cubs reliever Esmailin Caridad (L, 0-1). Cincinnati had been hitting balls hard all night, but they were either at somebody or turned into highlight-reel plays. Cubs SS Ryan Theriot was a thief defensively. Reds hitters were swinging freely up until the 8th, when they started to work the count against Caridad. Jonny Gomes and Ramon Hernandez worked walks to bring up the pitcher’s spot. Chris Dickerson came out to pinch hit. Still trailing 3-1, Baker ordered a bunt to get the tying run into scoring position for the top of the order. Dickerson laid down a great bunt toward third. Aramis Ramirez was late to field it and Dickerson beat the throw to load the bases and set the stage for Drew Stubbs’s dramatics. He belted a 1-0 fastball into the Reds bullpen for his first career Grand Slam, giving Cincinnati a 5-3 lead.

Was he going for the grand slam? “I was absolutely looking for something to drive,” said Stubbs on Reds Live. “(Caridad) had struggled early in the inning with his control. I knew he was going to try to get ahead of me early with a fastball. He left one out over the plate and I was able to get a good swing on it.”

Still, there was trouble in the 9th. Francisco Cordero was trying to get his first save of the season a night after notching his first win of 2010. Derrek Lee belted a 1-out homer into the bleachers in left to get it within 5-4, and Ramirez hit one to the warning track in right that Jay Bruce handled easily for the 2nd out. But a single, an error, and an infield hit loaded the bases for the North Siders. Cordero responded by throwing nothing but fastballs to Chad Tracy, who grounded back to the box. Cordero made a perfect toss to Joey Votto and the Reds had won a thriller.

Game Two – Cubs 4, Reds 3

Saturday’s game was all about the longball. The Cubs won 4-3 on homers by Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano, and Jeff Baker. It ruined a very good outing from Reds starter Aaron Harang, who was pitching with what he called “the crud.” As well as he did, maybe he could use a stuffy head and post-nasal drip every game. Harang had four strikeouts and a perfect game going through three innings and the Reds took a 3-0 lead to the 4th. A 2-out RBI single by Ryan Hanigan in the 2nd opened the scoring and a 2-out homer to the Reds bullpen in center by Brandon Phillips gave Cincinnati the lead, but the Cubs would have it even by the bottom of the 5th.

Theriot singled to left to lead off the 4th, and went to second on a wild pitch. Fukudome followed with a big fly to right and Chicago was within one. Soriano led off the 5th with a homer to left and the lead was gone.

It was too bad for Harang as he was really pitching well in the sunshine. “He just made two mistakes (all day),” said Baker. “They didn’t pop it up or hit it into the ground. Both of (the homers) were on breaking balls. He pitched great. You take those two pitches back and it’s a different ballgame.” Harang allowed three runs on four hits, while striking out seven without walking anyone.

That’s when “Big Z,” Carlos Zambrano (W, 1-1), turned up his game. He didn’t allow a hit the rest of the day and struck out four of the last five batters he faced. Zambrano gave up six hits and two walks in his seven innings, but he struck out nine.

Chicago capitalized in the top of the 8th when pinch hitter Baker led off by lifting one off of reliever Arthur Rhodes (L, 0-1) into the jetstream to the Reds bullpen for a 4-3 lead. Rhodes said, “It must’ve caught a good part of the bat, because it was a good pitch.

The Reds had a big chance to come back in the bottom of the frame. To call the Cubs bullpen shaky in this first week is to be Mr. Obvious. The Cubs have led in every game so far this season. John Grabow got another chance to keep the opponent off the scoreboard. Derrek Lee saved his bacon with a great play to end the inning. The Reds had Phillips at first with 2-out when Jay Bruce hit a rocket destined for the right field corner. But somehow Lee was able to jump quickly and snare it, or Phillips would have surely scored to tie it. “I don’t know if there was a taller first baseman in the league that would’ve gotten that ball,” said Baker. Bruce ended the game with an .056 average, but Jay’s had some tough, tough luck. Baker said, “He’s hit a couple of line drives every day. It hard to keep telling him (this), but you’ve got to tell him, ‘You keep swingin’ it and they’ll fall.’”

Carlos Marmol (S, 2) struck out the side in the 9th to close it.

Game Three – Reds 3, Cubs 1

Sunday brought the major league debut of starting pitcher Mike Leake. Leake was most impressive in the poise he displayed. Quite honestly, he looked like he’d been playing major league baseball for years. He got into an immediate jam as the game began. His first pro pitch ever was a called strike to Ryan Theriot. But then he started missing away and Theriot drew a walk. Fukudome followed with a double off the glove of Drew Stubbs near the warning track in right-center field. Leake walked Lee with first base open. But then he got Ramirez on an infield fly to 2nd, Marlon Byrd on a strikeout, and Soriano on a fly to right to end the threat.

Leake was uncharacteristic in the number of walks he allowed. Giving up only four walks in all of spring training, he gave up seven in 6.2 innings. But he wasn’t going to let two different Cubs get him: Lee or Geovany Soto, the #8 hitter. Most pitchers try to prove their worth by going right after guys like that. Lee hit two home runs in the series. But Leake issued four of his seven walks by simply not giving those guys anything to hit. Cubs starter Tom Gorzelanny almost made the strategy backfire. He came to the plate each time with two out and hit the ball hard twice off of Leake. But Phillips made a diving catch to his right on the first liner, and Stubbs went nearly to the warning track in center to keep Gorzelanny hitless.

Leake wasn’t hitless, far from it. He got the Reds first hit of the day in the 3rd inning with a single up the middle in his first major league at-bat. He got his second hit down the right field line to lead off the 6th. The rest of the Reds lineup couldn’t muster hardly anything, striking out far too often in the bright sunshine. Leake ran out of gas in the 7th, and had to leave with the Reds trailing 1-0. His day was fantastic for a seasoned veteran, much less a guy who had never thrown a pitch as a professional before. He went 6.2 innings, and allowed only one run on four hits and struck out five, not to mention his 2-for-2 day at the plate. “It was just fun,” said Leake. “I was maybe more excited for the hitting than I was the pitching.”

Afterward on the Reds Live postgame show, Jonny Gomes said, “I hope he can’t play outfield, because all our jobs are in jeopardy with the way he hit today.” Leake threw 106 pitches, 57 for strikes.

Now the Reds offense had to make sure he didn’t wind up with the loss, because he was on the hook for it. But Cincinnati got a run in the 7th to eliminate that possibility, and then plated two more in the 8th to sneak away with the win in a game where Reds batters struck out 10 times.

Cordero (S, 2) nailed it down in the 9th.

It makes for a happy flight to Miami, where Cincinnati begins a 7-game road trip with four games at Florida. The Reds will play seven games against the Marlins this year, the next four games at Sun Life Stadium. The Marlins come to Cincinnati for three games on August 13. Last season, the teams split six games. Monday night’s pitchers will be Johnny Cueto (0-0, 3.00) vs. Ricky Nolasco (0-0, 4.05). On Tuesday, it will be Bronson Arroyo (0-0, 1.13) going against Nate Robertson (1-0, 1.80). Tuesday’s game will be televised nationally on MLB Network at 7:00. Homer Bailey (0-0, 5.40) will take the hill on Wednesday night with Chris Volstad (0-1, 2.84). The finale features Aaron Harang (0-1, 4.50) matching up with Florida’s Josh Johnson (0-1, 6.30). All games on the road trip will be televised on Fox Sports Ohio in HD.

In the system, Aroldis Chapman had a great start in his pro debut as well. He clearly overmatched the Toledo MudHens offense. The Hens only got to him in the 5th, scoring an unearned run when he was running out of gas. Nine of the 14 outs he recorded came via the strikeout, six swinging. Chapman hit 101 on the radar gun. He had to get out of a bases loaded jam in the 2nd. Of the five hits he allowed in the game, four never left the infield. Control was never an issue in the game. Chapman gave up only one walk in his 4.2 innings, and that was to the next-to-last batter he faced on the day. The unearned run he gave up came off of an infield single to first. Chapman came within an out of picking up the win as the Bats dispatched Toledo, 2-1.

ROSTER NOTE… To make room for Leake, the Reds optioned Juan Francisco to AAA Louisville and designated left-handed pitcher Pedro Viola for assignment.

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I'm a lifelong Cincinnati sports fan who has been following the Reds and Bengals ever since I can remember. My first Reds game was Game 6 of the '72 World Series and my first Bengals game was an October 1975 clash with the Steelers. I've been involved in sports media since Junior High, when I assisted with scores for Bob Trumpy SportsTalk in 1979 on WLW Radio. My biggest Reds highlight came in 1998 when I was chosen to be the public address announcer at Riverfront Stadium (then called Cinergy Field) for Opening Day and the entire first homestand. I am thrilled to be involved with PSB and I hope you enjoy my entries!

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