Well, that was certainly unbelievable. It was one of those miracle comebacks that happen once or twice a year. And the nation got to watch it. Normally, I would write a bit of a recap, framed in the thoughts of a player. But this is my blog, so I decided to share my own thoughts here.
In case you missed it, the Reds had an 8-0 lead over the Braves in the 3rd inning. Joey Votto had clubbed his first career grand slam, and the Reds were looking as bright as the Georgia sunshine that was bathing Turner Field. But it all came crashing down in a collapse of legendary proportion as the Braves scored seven times in the bottom of the 9th to win, 10-9. The capper was a pinch-hit grand-slam by Brooks Conrad.
I have seen Reds teams of the past come back like that a few times. You get the sense that it wouldn’t matter how many runs needed to be scored, the trailing team would score them as the Braves certainly did. The Atlanta win closed the Braves eight-game homestand at 5-3, with four of the five wins coming in walk-off style. Atlanta now leads the majors with six walk-off wins this season.
Mike Leake was on the mound for Cincinnati, and I have to admit that I have a bit of a man-crush on the way Leake pitches. He’s being compared to Greg Maddux right now. I’m not so sure Maddux was as good as Leake when he started his major league career, but it’s a huge complement to the rookie. I always take special notice of the game when Leake is on the hill.
I was honestly going to write about his at-bat in the 2nd, how it set the tone for the scoring explosion of the inning. The Reds had done their damage with two out and Leake had extended the inning with a two-out single. It didn’t let Braves starter Tommy Hanson get to the dugout for some rest. The next thing Hanson knew was that he was headed to the showers. When the day began, the Reds were 12-2 when they scored first, as they had on this day. Leake was on his way to improve his record to 5-0 to start his career, matching Santo Alcala in 1976.
My how things changed. And it was the Reds league-leading defense that betrayed them on this day. Cincinnati committed four errors, and it easily could have been five. Conrad’s game-winner was even assisted by the Reds’ defense. Laynce Nix made a leap at the wall for the ball. It glanced off of the fingers of the glove and flipped over the wall for the slam. Conrad grabbed his helmet in frustration and headed back toward the dugout because he thought Nix had caught it and there were two out. Only when he saw his teammates coming out of the dugout in jubilation did he realize he’d won the game. If Nix hadn’t touched it, it would have stayed in the park.
I was in total disbelief. I heard a local radio sportcaster use the term “stunning.” I thought of “shocking.” And then I heard a local TV sports anchor doing a radio update when he said what probably made the most sense of all. He put the defeat solely at the feet of Dusty Baker.
Why? Because of several things. Scott Rolen needed a day off, so Baker put in Miguel Cairo at third. Everyone around the team is saying Rolen has a tight hamstring, so Cairo took his place. Why not Paul Janish? Cairo is on the roster because of his playoff experience and leadership. Janish is an excellent fielder. Cairo did well at the plate, but he committed a huge error in the 9th when he couldn’t get a grip on a bases-loaded ground ball to start a potential around-the-horn double play.
Then, there was Nix in left. Why not run Chris Heisey out there in the 9th as a replacement? I watched Heisey make a spectacular play on Saturday night to beat the Cardinals. Maybe he doesn’t catch that ball, either. I like Nix and have no problem with his defense. But, Heisey is the better fielder, and he was sitting on the bench in the dugout.
Why was Mike Lincoln left in the game so long? He did well in the 7th and 8th, but it was clear from the start of the inning that his breaking stuff had left him. I’m sure Baker was trying to get him a save. If Lincoln had been able to finish the 9th, he would have earned his first save since he was with the Pirates in 2003. But, nobody was ready in the bullpen when the Braves were beginning to pounce. They got two runs to make it 9-5.
The change was made to Nick Masset. Masset had just gotten beat in the 9th the night before. He walked the first batter he faced to load up the bases, and went to 3-1 on the next batter. That’s when he got the ground ball to Cairo that Miguel couldn’t grip out of his glove.
On came Arthur Rhodes to face Jason Heyward. Lefty-on-lefty and Rhodes struck him out.
Now it was time for Francisco Cordero. He hadn’t pitched since Monday and is always rusty when he doesn’t get enough work. He went to three balls on Conrad before finding the strike zone. And, to be honest, the pitch Conrad hit was way off the plate – high and outside. But he got enough of it to get it out and become a legend, at least for a little while.
Then the Cardinals beat the Marlins and the Reds fell back into second place.
Hindsight is, of course, 20-20. Easy to say all of this now, there’s been plenty of time to process it. Even Baker said, “You can second-guess all day.” So, I will. There should have been no save for a game that was 9-3 entering the 9th. Lincoln should’ve been taken down for Rhodes or Daniel Ray Herrera as soon as somebody got on base. As that TV sportscaster said, “This isn’t little league. Everybody doesn’t need to feel good about themselves by individual accomplishments, they need to do that by winning.”
So a happy flight to Cleveland turned into a somber one. The Reds biggest test comes this weekend. Some teams fold up when they suffer a defeat like the one the Reds did on Thursday. Others come out firing harder than ever. We’ll see what we have come Monday.
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!