September 27th, 2010

On that faithful Monday night, I remember frantically looking for tickets after seeing the Cardinals had won their game that evening. That meant the Cincinnati Reds would have a chance to clinch their first division title and trip to the postseason in 15 years, and in front of their home crowd the next evening. I called some friends, got some view level seats (as tickets were selling out very quickly), and prepared for what I hoped would be “Clinchmas.”

September 28th, 2010

Me and my friends hustled to get downtown as quickly as possible on that Tuesday evening. When we arrived downtown, and made our way into the stadium, there was a buzz around like I had never seen before. There was a incredible walk up crowd, and the electricity throughout the stadium was remarkable.

The game was tight throughout, and had a true postseason feel. The game was tied going into the bottom of the 9th. Jay Bruce lead off the inning, and provided any Reds fan in their 20s (like myself) with their greatest Reds moment ever. In case you have forgotten that moment, here you go.

What followed was a long, wonderful night of celebrating downtown. The huge crowd downtown was celebrating as if the team had just won the World Series. I remember seeing Brandon Phillips, and later Scott Rolen downtown going to celebrate their teammates. The two players were like folk-heroes to the crowd.

This was truly the start of something really great with the Cincinnati Reds, right?

I never would have dreamed on that night that the Cincinnati Reds would have failed to advance in the postseason once four years later. Or maybe even worse, that the Reds wouldn’t win a single playoff game in Cincinnati.

So what happened?

I remember waking up on the day of Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS. I jumped out bed, and have never been more excited that entire day than any day in my entire life (maybe that is sad for me, but whatever).

The 2010 postseason would end up being an absolute disaster. The Reds had to play the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS. The Reds didn’t just get swept in the series, they got embarrassed. The Reds were no-hit by Roy Halladay in Game 1. In Game 2, the Reds got out to a 4-0 lead. The Reds, who were one of the best defensive teams in all of baseball in 2010, committed an incomprehensible four errors, and the Reds lost 7-4. The Game 2 loss in my eyes will always be more agonizing than the Game 1 no-hitter. The Reds were then shutout 2-0 in the first playoff game in Cincinnati in 15 years (first ever playoff game at GABP), to complete the Phillies sweep.

I remember discussing that series with a friend of mine who was a Phillies fan. He told me that my team was really good, and would have a bright future. He said the Reds reminded him of the same Phillies team a few years back. That sounded right, and was reassuring. Sure, I was devastated the Reds season came to an end so horrifically, but I still felt very optimistic about the future.

In 2011, the Reds had a classic sophomore slump. The season was full of injuries, and down years for many of the Reds players. But hey, this sort of thing happens, right? Sophomore slumps happen all the time to young teams.

In 2012, the Reds responded with their best year in my lifetime (outside of the 1990 season when I was three years old). The Reds won 97 games, and looked like they had a legitimate shot at winning it all that year. Cueto, Latos, and Bailey were as good of 1-3 starting pitchers that year than any other team in baseball, and there really wasn’t a truly dominant team in the MLB in 2012. The postseason was wide open.

The Reds offense had struggled the last couple weeks of the season, and it was a little concerning going into the postseason. The unthinkable happened in Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS. Reds ace Johnny Cueto got hurt after facing just ONE batter, and had to leave the game. Yet, somehow, someway the Reds found a way to recover and win Game 1, 5-2. The Reds followed that up with an amazing 9-0 win in Game 2. The Reds were just one win away from playing in the NLCS. I remember in the late innings of Game 2 going online and looking for tickets for the NLCS (a move that I would later regret). In my mind, I had already advanced the Reds to the NLCS. This thing was already wrapped up. There was no way the Reds could possibly lose three straight games at home (something they hadn’t done during the entire regular season), right?

Then the three days from hell happened. In Game 3, Homer Bailey pitched absolutely brilliantly. He took a no-hitter into the 6th inning, and became the first pitcher in MLB postseason to pitch 7.0+ innings, allow 1 run or less, allow 1 hit or less, allow 1 walk or less, and strikeout 10+ batters. THE FIRST EVER! But, Scott Rolen (the guy who shouldn’t have even be playing because Todd Frazier outplayed him all season), committed an error in the 10th inning which allowed the winning run to score.

Scott Rolen allowed me to see my first ever postseason game in person in Game 4. The crowd was absolutely electric when I got there, and was an incredible experience. Well, it was an incredible experience for about 10 minutes. Mike Leake (who only had to pitch in the series because Cueto got hurt) got rocked, and the Reds lost 8-3. They were now on the brink of becoming the first team in NL history to blow a 2-0 lead in the NLDS.

Then there was Game 5. I remember waking up early and seeing all sorts of messages on my phone to go on the internet and look at tickets for the game. Normally, if you try to buy tickets for a playoff game on a third party website, you significantly overpay for them. Something crazy happened on that day though. Because the game was at 1:00 pm, many people who had the tickets (probably expecting a refund for Game 5 after the Reds went up 2-0 in the series) couldn’t make the game because of work. The prices for tickets were unbelievably low. I paid $3.97 for an elimination postseason game. My wonderful boss at the time understood how important this was, and let me leave work at about 12:45 from Blue Ash. I drove about 110 MPH down I-71 (yes, I seriously did….I’m not proud), and got into the ballpark in the top of the 2nd inning.

As Steve Mancuso alluded to in his recap of that game. the crowd that day was absolutely electric. It was better than Clinchmas 2010, it was better than Game 4. You wouldn’t have expected a Cincinnati crowd who just saw their team blow a 2-0 lead in the series be so incredibly loud and excited, especially after they had one of their best players, Jay Bruce call them out for booing Mike Leake. The stadium was electric until Mat Latos gave up a grand slam to the eventual MVP of that season Buster Posey, to give the Giants a seemingly insurmountable 6-0 lead. Even from where I was at in the stadium (a standing room only spot where I could only see half of the field), I could tell that Mat Latos was loosing control of his emotions. Dusty Baker left him in too long (something old Dusty was best known for), and it put the Reds in a 6-0 hole in an elimination game.

Then something crazy happened. First, I ran into one of my friends who had to leave the game because their young kids were having a rough day. They gave me their tickets, and I moved to just a few rows behind the Giants dugout. For $3.97, I was sitting a few rows behind a dugout in an elimination playoff game.

Then, something even more crazy happened. The usually pessimistic and full of doom Cincinnati fans literally tried to will the Reds back to victory. Whether the Reds actually feed off that or not, the Reds made an incredible comeback. The Reds cut the game to 6-4 in the 9th inning. With one out, and two runners on base, Jay Bruce stepped to the plate, representing the winning run. Great American Ballpark was absolutely deafening. You could literally feel the stadium shake a little bit. Jay Bruce got his wish from the fans. Bruce had an epic, 12-pitch at-bat against Romo (you can see below), but eventually flew out.. That was only the second out of the inning, but everyone in the ballpark knew the game was over. Scott Rolen came up for what was fitting way for the Reds season to come to an end. Rolen struck out on a breaking ball, and that was it.

I had a perfect seat right behind the Giants dugout to watch them celebrate on my field. It was awful. It was painful. Yes, I shed a tear. That was our year. The Giants would go on to win the World Series, and you can’t help but feel like that should have been the Reds. That team was good enough to do it that year. It was the longest walk from the stadium to my car ever. Literally, not a single Reds fan on the way out said a word. Everyone was simply stunned.

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The painful loss of 2012, quickly went away for a while after the Reds signed Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason. Choo posted a .423 OBP in 2013, finishing the season only second in the MLB to his teammate, Joey Votto and his .434 OBP. The Reds would win 90 games in 2013, but after a bad September found themselves as the NL’s second wild-card team. That meant the Reds would have to travel to Pittsburgh, and play the Pirates. It felt like a very underachieving 90 win season. Dusty Baker decided to pitch Johnny Cueto, a pitcher who had only made 11 starts that season because of injuries, and it turned out to be Baker’s last pitching decision. The Reds lost the wild card game 6-2, and another season came to an end.

The Reds fired Dusty Baker in the off-season, and basically made no moves to an already flawed roster. In 2014, the Reds got surprisingly great seasons from Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, and Billy Hamilton. Johnny Cueto pitched well enough to win the Cy Young most years, All of that wouldn’t be nearly enough though, as the Reds had significant injuries to Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman, and Tony Cingrani.

That leads us to September 28th, 2014. Maybe it is poetic that the final day of a losing season would fall on the four year anniversary of Jay Bruce’s walk-off home run.

So what went wrong? I’ve only got two things: bad luck and bad performances.

Many baseball fans refuse to believe that luck has a major factor of results in baseball. I’ve got news for you, it absolutely does, and especially so in short series. In 2010, the Reds had the misfortune of playing by most accounts the best team in baseball in the postseason. Would any team have beat Roy Halladay in Game 1? Probably not. In 2012, the Reds ace got hurt after facing just one batter. How does that even happen? How many teams would be able to win a series after that? Probably not many. The Giants were absolutely resilient in coming back from a 2-0 deficit, and on the road. How many teams would have been able to do that? Not many. In 2013, the Reds had to face a terrible matchup in left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano. The Reds three best hitters in 2013 were all left handed (Votto, Choo, and Bruce). Todd Frazier just missed a 3-run home run, that barely went foul, in the 4th inning of that wild-card game. That would have gave the Reds a 4-3 lead. Baseball is truly a game of inches.

Then there are the bad performances. I am far from a guy who puts a lot of stock it players being clutch or not, but the Reds certainly have had their share of bad performances in key moments. In Game 2 of the 2010 NLDS, the Reds looked like a team not ready for the moment, committing four errors. It is hard to say anything other than that was mostly the result of not being able to handle the pressure of the moment. Then there was 2012. Dusty Baker was absolutely out-managed by Bruce Bochy in that series. Dusty Baker managed games 3-5 like any normal game in May. Bochy managed like his team was about to be eliminated. Richard Fitch covered it all in his article Time to Move On on October 14th, 2012. Scott Rolen couldn’t make a fielding play that cost the team Game 3. Mat Latos couldn’t handle his emotions in Game 5 of that series. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Reds bad luck outweighs the bad performances, but there were certainly plenty of bad performances to go around.

I will always take the Reds last four seasons over any four seasons in the decade before, but it still doesn’t make the postseason failures any easier for a Reds fan. For now, we are faced with dreaming of next season. Four years later, try to remember that faithful night in 2010. On that night, everything was perfect with the Cincinnati Reds. Try to channel that hope we all had then of our favorite baseball team for the future. Through the good and the bad, this is our team. Maybe with another chance at the postseason, this team can finally make a run at winning at all.