Picture it. You’re a rookie who is starting your 3rd week of major league baseball.
This particular game is special because of the events surrounding it. They call it the “Civil Rights Game,” and it has brought baseball legends to the ballpark to watch. Hall of Famers like Frank Robinson, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Willie Mays. It has also brought out a sellout crowd, something you’re definitely not used to. You’re not in the starting lineup, but you might get to pinch-hit in the later innings.
Fast forward to the top of the 9th inning. The manager has put you into the game to play left field as a defensive replacement. With the tying run on 1st and 2 out, the ball gets hit hard down the line and you’ll have to run over and play it off the wall. You get into your ready stance to field it and throw it in.
The ball has hit the bottom of the padding and is motionless right there at the base of the fence. The tying runner is streaking around the bases, halfway to 3rd. You are Chris Heisey.
“You knew it was going to be close at the plate when the ball did that,” said Dusty Baker.
With the game in the balance, Heisey ran to the ball and just whipped it toward the infield. Orlando Cabrera moved a couple steps to his right, grabbed it and fired home to try and cut down Skip Schumaker at the plate. Ramon Hernandez moved a couple of steps to his left, grabbed the ball on a hop, and lunged at the streaking Schumaker sliding toward the plate. OUT! Game over! Reds win!
Nice play, Rook.
“Heisey made a great throw to Orlando, Orlando made a great throw to Ramon, and Ramon had to pick up that ball and then tag (Schumaker),” said Baker. “It was a tough play, and I’m glad we executed.”
Picture it. You’re a 22-year-old pitcher in just your second month of pro baseball.
You’re pitching against some of the best hitters in the game with the largest crowd you’ve ever pitched before in attendance. You are facing the opposing team’s ace, a guy who finished second in Cy Young Award voting last year. You’re playing the team on top of the standings and a win gives you a chance to move ahead of them the next day. The hopes of a fan base are tied to you. A loss loses the series and puts you 2 ½ games back. You are Mike Leake.
Leake was outstanding in 6 innings of work. He kept the hitters guessing all night. There was a lot of talk about how Leake would do against Albert Pujols. Pujols is arguably the best all-around hitter in the game today. Leake showed he thought of Pujols as just another good hitter. On his first-ever pitch to Pujols, Leake fired high and inside. Pujols facial expression after the pitch was one of disbelief. Granted, Pujols singled later in the at-bat, but Leake kept him from doing any damage and even struck him out once. Leake also frustrated Yadier Molina all night. Molina struck out twice, the second time on a slider where he lost the bat when he swung, and it went flying past the pitcher’s mound. Leake retrieved it. Leake allowed four hits and two runs in six innings, struck out five and walked two – one, an intentional pass to Pujols.
“I’m past being surprised by him,” said Baker.
It was just the 2nd sellout of the year for the Reds, an announced crowd of 41,326.
“It was great to have that many fans for a game. When there’s that many people,” said Leake, “it’s a little easier to block them out, actually. Especially when it’s at your own field. It really only helps you. You can’t beat a packed house.”
About Pujols and Matt Holliday, Leake said, “I had to get out there and attack. I didn’t let the heart of their lineup beat me.”
Leake is now 4-0, thanks to some great work by the Reds bullpen. Arthur Rhodes pitched a great 7th, and Cordero battled in the 9th. But a special mention goes to Nick Masset. Masset faced the heart of the Cardinals order in the 8th and set them down in order. He picked up two strikeouts, one was Pujols.
And what of the story of Drew Stubbs? He has been improving gradually ever since Baker moved him into the 7-spot in the lineup. He keeps coming to the plate in pressure situations and he has delivered.
On Saturday, he came to the plate against Adam Wainwright with two outs in the bottom of the 6th inning of a 2-2 game. He went behind in the count and then belted a two-run triple to right-center for the eventual winning runs of a 4-3 final.
Stubbs has five RBIs so far in the series.
“Even though his batting average isn’t up there, the name of the game is scoring runs and driving in runs,” said Baker. “He’s amongst our team leaders in RBIs, even though he’s had a tough year so far.”
“He’s amongst our team leaders in stolen bases and runs scored. He’s contributing big time and he’s also playing some good defense out there for us, too.”
The Reds have another chance to take first place away from the Cardinals on Sunday. It would cap a beautiful weekend of baseball in Cincinnati.
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!