Sometimes, it’s all about taking care of the little things.
Reds manager Dusty Baker, for the first time in his managerial career – so long as he can remember – did not make himself available to the media following last Saturday’s embarrassing loss to the Padres. It was as sloppy a game as you’ll ever see on a baseball field. Baker was livid with his players and rightfully so. He opened the clubhouse to the press, but did not make himself available afterwards. And, lest we sound like we’re bashing him for not talking to the press, we are not. Sometimes it’s best not to say anything when you know you’ll probably regret saying it later. Baker wears his heart on his sleeve and he made sure the media knew he would be available and talk to them at the regular pregame time the next day.
On Sunday, he said that he admonished his players like a father would his sons when their behavior was unacceptable. Being around Baker for two-plus seasons now, I know that the thing that annoys him the most is when his players shortchange themselves – and the team – by not focusing and playing up to their abilities. Sunday’s game was one like the Reds played in the first part of the season, a back and forth struggle against a good team that resulted in a hard-fought win.
Then came Tuesday where, against all public sentiment, Aaron Harang would be put center stage in a series opener at Houston when it seemed all of Reds country except Dusty wanted Harang’s start to be skipped in favor of Mike Leake. Turns out, Harang looked like his pre-2008 self. He pitched well, kept the Astros on their heels and gained a victory, just the second in his last 21 starts.
Harang credited pitching coach Bryan Price for his success on Tuesday. Harang said, “We talked about it and Bryan seemed to think that I was being a little more passive lately, instead of just being the old me, (which was) being aggressive and going right after them. Not picking around the zone. (Bryan) kinda figured that out and said, ‘Just go out and be the old you. Challenge guys and see what happens’.”
What happened was clearly the Harang of old, and Reds fans certainly hope that this guy stays around awhile. The key at-bat of the game came in the bottom of the 3rd. The Reds had a 2-1 lead, but the Astros were threatening with runners on the corners. There were two outs and noted Reds killer Lance Berkman was at the plate. Harang fed Berkman nothing but fastballs in the at-bat. He nibbled early, going behind 3-0. But then he got aggressive and pounded the zone. Harang won the battle with a 95-mph fastball on 3-2 that Berkman fouled into the mitt of catcher Ryan Hanigan.
On Wednesday, rookie starter Mike Leake threw against the Astros for the first time and took care of business in a 6-4 Reds win. Leake allowed only one run in seven innings, and that one didn’t come until the Reds had built a 6-0 lead in the 5th. Leake has clearly been the Reds best pitcher thus far, and he gave up five hits and two walks while striking out five in his seven innings. The most impressive thing about him has been his maturity. He came to spring training ready to make the team. Now that he’s made it, he’s set about a course of being dependable. He has a game plan in mind and he never wavers from it or gets frustrated when he gets into a jam. It appears that he has no ego and is having fun on the mound. He also gets a lot of ground ball outs – 11 of them in the game.
The Reds offense has come alive as well, scoring 17 runs over the past three games. One noticeable lineup change has been Brandon Phillips moving from cleanup to 2nd in the order and Scott Rolen moving from 5th, up a spot to cleanup. Orlando Cabrera, who has produced all season long, has been shuffled to the 6th spot, while Jay Bruce has moved to 5th.
It would appear that Baker’s Saturday Sermon is having the desired short-term effect on this team. Certainly, Reds fans are hoping the long-term effect will be continued success. Cincinnati has moved up to 2nd in the Central with a big weekend series at division-leading St. Louis coming up. If 2010 turns out to be successful, we can all point to a closed-door meeting in April and a manager who had had enough of the shenanigans of his team. Baker said, “When we win, it makes everything brighter and the world’s better.”
For now, the sun is shining bright on Reds Country.
About the Author
Written by Dave Allen
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!