Homer Bailey’s debut wasn’t just a win for him and the Reds but it provided the opportunity for the fans to be part of the game on a level I hadn’t yet experienced in baseball.
Flash forward to the 5th inning and Bailey struggling to get those last two outs. He’d started the inning at 90+ pitches so everyone pretty much knew it was his last inning. He gave up a single to Sizemore, popped Blake up and then walked Hafner in an 8 pitch at bat (no shame in that). Bailey was now at 106 pitches.
Victor Martinez came up and crushed a ball that I knew was going out but somehow it died in Hopper’s glove at the base of the center field wall. Martinez could not have hit it any farther without it being a homerun.
Everyone looked over to the dugout, expecting to see Narron come out. Stanton was already warming up in the pen and Nixon and Dellucci were up next. But Narron didn’t come out. This charged the crowd up some but Bailey was really struggling. His fastball was hitting 90-91, even 89. He was obviously tired. And he walked Nixon on 4 straight pitches. None of them really close.
Narron HAD to come out now and go to the pen. But a strange thing happened. Dick Pole came out instead. It took a minute for the crowd to see it wasn’t Narron and that this meant Bailey was staying in. He was gassed but the Reds were leaving him in to get that 15th out to qualify for the win.
As Pole walked away, a few of us stood up and started clapping and cheering for Bailey. Then more stood. Then more. Now the entire stadium was standing, clapping and cheering for Bailey. He was tired, needed one more out and we were going to give all the energy we had to help him get that last out.
The stadium was filled with an energy usually associated with the 9th inning of a one run playoff game. It got progressively louder with each of his pitches. Strike one, looking. Swinging strike 2. Ball one….Strike 3…looking.
Bailey pumped his fist as he walked off the mound and we were going nuts. I turned to my friend who doesn’t go to many baseball games and told her she had just witnessed something rare. An entire stadium of fans standing, cheering and clapping in the top of the 5th inning like it was the bottom of the 9th in the World Series. A stadium full of fans willing an athlete to victory.
Bill Simmons, who writes for ESPN Page 2, has written many times of growing up and going to Celtics games as a kid at the Garden. He firmly believes that the crowd won many of those games with the atmosphere and hostility it displayed in big games. The Celtics fed off that energy. I understood what he was talking about but aside from last year’s OSU/Mich game, had never experienced it.
Homer Bailey may blow out his elbow or shoulder his next start. He may go on to have a Hall of Fame career with many great memories. Most likely, his career will be somewhere in the large area between those two extremes. But his first start provided a great memory for himself, one long time Reds fan and about 35,000 others.