The Home Run Cape of Victory is at fault; nearly as soon as it was around Joey Votto’s shoulders on Saturday night, it slipped.

It slipped.

Then it fell on the ground.

It fell. On the ground.

And as far as I can tell, no one dove to pick it up. These rookies, they don’t understand the hell we’ve been through to get this far, to actually break .500. I turned to Josh The Pilot.

“This winning streak,” I said, “is done.” The Reds skidded into a losing streak, toppling from first place, teetering on the edge of where there is no rally. I have no idea how to undo this damage.

The gingerly-stepped, seams-crooked win over the Orioles had the stench of everything that came before, an underwhelming mudslinger that was protracted by a weather delay– one so deep that Bally Sports sank all the way to airing a full episode of its Chick ‘n’ Dude on a Golf Course show before the time of the resumption of play was so much as announced.

So everybody had plenty of time to think about all this. Baltimore was throwing a perfect game until it wasn’t. Ducks drowned on the pond, walks haunted, feet were let off gas pedals, live balls rolled merrily about the infield, and the tying run was very much in sight before the last merciful Baltimore fly-out.Β  The Reds did not beat the Orioles so much as outlast them in the crass humidity of the night.

“I’m terrified,” I answered a reader last week when he wrote of the exultation of first place, “that they’re gonna come back from the day off and somehow have reverted to form.” Horrifyingly, this seemed to unfold until last night’s ugly win made for a beautiful backstop.

But it feels as if this team will at any second shatter like a country singer’s heart, or as the Internet would have it, the Reds are forever in danger of “forgetting how to baseball.” Impressive as the Rockies-Braves homestand was, they hauled out of town on a skid and, at the bitter tail end of it, were reminiscent of a desperate child standing on his tip-toes before a Kings Island employee, straining to produce the last half-inch that will at last get him on the big kids ride.

The city was tearing about downtown clutching its collective head over the weekend, with all three major sports franchises acquitting themselves not just well, but impressively. First place FC Cincinnati ta-dah’ed the equally first place Reds onto the pitch. The stadium announcer called them “your Cincinnati Reds” and no one tried to hide in the bathroom. Yes. Ours. We claim this.

Perhaps best for everyone’s mental health, both the Reds and FC, perhaps having crossed the streams too emphatically and too early, tumbled as a civic unit. Having risen together, they fell together, too, and while the Reds have managed to claw their way back to a half-game lead in the division, the FC must wait until July to assuage a 3-0 loss– which, in soccer terms, is a right drubbing. When a soccer score reflects a(n actual) football score in any way and at any time, all control has spun away.

Now I don’t know about you, but I cannot help but compare the autumnal Abraham-and-Sarah pregnancy that is this baseball season to what we have recently experienced with the Bengals– the Bengals who, in as little as two years, earned our trust. If they’re behind two touchdowns at the half, we don’t panic. We make another tray of Skyline dip and wait for the short running game to show up.

I’m not saying these Reds can’t get us there eventually. But all of this is so new, so fragile, that no one is quite ready to let these kids walk home on their own from school yet. We’ll follow from a distance in the cross-SUV to make sure they don’t wander into a sewer grate or wave hello to the nice man in the unmarked panel van.

In football, a team can, if it manages not to get penalized all the way into the parking lot, push its way into the endzone and prevent the opponent from coming anywhere near theirs. You can’t do that in baseball; you have to allow the other team its outs. There’s nothing we can do about it.

Nothing but pick that Viking cape up off the ground and wait for whoever wears it next.

 

37 Responses

  1. Steve Schoenbaechler

    A couple of things:

    – Even though many of us critique the Reds so much, me included, we all have to remember, also, and I do, that this team by all was suppose to finish 4th or 5th in the division. We’re in first (even near first would be an accomplishment), just won 12 straight games, over 500 at this time of year, all nothing but to feel good about.

    When people critique the Reds, we simply want the Reds to keep doing good, get better, etc. But, I, for one, can definitely feel how good we are doing this season.

    – I just heard there is still no talk of an extension for Bell. What people need to remember about Bell. . .before Bell, the Reds had 4 straight seasons finishing last in the division, with a 3rd and 4th before that. The Reds were one club that no competent manager would have their name associated with. We were scraping the bottom of the barrel. Bell came up.

    I’ve always said that I do respect that these players do seem to love to play for Bell (which can say just as much for the players as it does for Bell), but I wouldn’t be so quick to give Bell credit for other things.

    – By an entirely unscientific analysis, I count 10 young big leaguers and prospects playing 2nd/SS/3rd (considering the top 8 prospects). 10 players for 3 spots. And, people are afraid of “trading our future”? I believe our future is fine at these three positions even if we were to trade some of them. “Let’s keep them in the minors, just in case a big leaguer gets hurt.” I’ve never been a fan of the “just in case” reasoning. For, that prospect could get an injury, also. So, again, why not trade the prospect off for a need we have?

    Or, change their position now, while they are in the minors. For, it seems obvious that someone is going to get blocked at the big league level, the other reason for prospects. So, change their position now, while they are in the minors, to a position where they would be able to replace the big leaguer, change now so that they can ease into the position better rather than pressing for it when they get up here.

    – Even if we trade for some pitching help, I believe we need to look long term, also. We need to re-evaluate how pitchers are treated from day 1 into the organization. Maybe get a Maddux-type former pitcher to come in and evaluate everything. It might be the coaching, the training, the medical staff. But, everything.

    What am I talking about? Well, for starters, I have barely heard one word about people like Tejay, Vlad, and Tony S for I believe 2 years now. What’s the hangup?
    I thought bringing in the Boddy character was suppose to help with a lot of this, that by now, we would be seeing minor league pitching developing into major leaguers. I see one, Abbott. One, from the entire minor leagues? It doesn’t look like to me the Boddy experiment was successful.
    Like the Braves, we just faced a 20 and 24 year old who had barely 2 seasons of minor league experience. Even if they were callups, maybe we are taking too long with moving up the pitching. I mean, if it was left up to big club and a healthy pitching staff, I would be willing to bet that Abbott wouldn’t be with the big club till 2025. I mean, Leake did go straight to the majors will relatively no minor league experience. He seemed to do alright for us.

    • greenmtred

      I do wonder the same thing, but, for one thing, the Reds’ recent acquisitions have focused on position players–a weakness in the system. Also, Leake was a college pitcher at good program, so he had experience. Mainly, though, not all young players have the same developmental trajectory. McClain, Steer, Abbot and EDLC all argue for the Reds having a good idea of when to promote talent. Of course, in that group only Abbot is a pitcher. No argument that the Reds need more starting pitching.

    • Don

      i was asked going into this season by someone how the Reds were going to be and my response was that any finish above the cellar would be an accomplishment. It is good sometimes to be reminded how much they are exceeding expectations right now even in spite of glaring deficiencies.

  2. Scott C

    I for one am at least excited, not joyous yet still excited to watch the Cincinnati Kids play baseball. What a thing of beauty Friedl’s bunt was down the third base line, I think it threw off the Oriole pitcher who then gave up McClain’s double. Maybe not perhaps Mclain just rocked him. I am going to stay excited until I read the headline, “Who Killed the Cincinnati Kid (s).”
    BTW I loved the line “I cannot help but compare the autumnal Abraham-and-Sarah pregnancy that is this baseball season…”

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      Excellent post. People need to understand the difference between joyous and excited. One can be joyous about a team, but that same team could be playing the most boring style of play around. They just win games. Plenty to be joyous about. Not much to be excited about.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      thank you for the kind words. And I too am joyous… but… I just don’t *trust* any of this yet, you know?

  3. LDS

    Fragile indeed. As for being in first place and Steve’s comments that they were forecasted to be in 4th or 5th place? The season is just nearing the midpoint. A lot can still happen. Will Krall make some deals? Maybe, just hope if so it doesn’t dilute the farm system. The Reds aren’t winning the World Series this year. And as for Bell? Extending him, regardless of how well the Reds finish, would simply show that nepotism trumps talent.

    • BK

      You must realize that if the season ended today, your arch nemesis would be a very strong candidate for manager of the year.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        That makes him perfect? That means he has no flaws? Miami and Arizona having even better seasons than Cincy, putting their managers in front of Bell.

      • BK

        @Steve, I did not say any of those things, nor did I say he would win. I said “strong candidate.” Classic strawman fallacy!

      • greenmtred

        No manager is free of flaws, of course, so perfection isn’t on the table. And, unless you objectively factor in the relative strengths and weaknesses of the various rosters, managerial won-lost records mean very little.

  4. Mark Moore

    The euphoria and angst share equal time on the stage this season. The level of Hope has risen to almost a dangerous point … and I’m happy it has. I’m considering a trip up to DC early next week to see two games and the seats I’m looking at are out near the visitor’s bullpen.

    Oh, and I love your use of “Ducks drowned on the pond, walks haunted, feet were let off gas pedals, live balls rolled merrily about the infield, and the tying run was very much in sight before the last merciful Baltimore fly-out. The Reds did not beat the Orioles so much as outlast them in the crass humidity of the night.”

    I bailed during the delay and watched Diaz in the 9th add all sorts of heartburn. “Outlast” about covers it.

  5. Jim Walker

    I recall Joe Morgan talking about a team must first understand it is good enough to win then next needing to learn how to win the games they are in a position to win and along the way even stealing back some they appeared not to be in line to win .

    When I see this current Reds crew in action, I think they are realizing they are good enough to win. Tuesday night was a step toward learning how to finish the job and actually win a tough game.

    We fans, especially those who don’t have the advantage of having seen a Reds team do these things, need to learn along with the team.

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      I remember some football people talking about things like. . .

      “You need to win the home games, half the road games”.

      Or. . .

      “Consider, you are going to win the games you are suppose to win. You want to try to go 500 in the games you may or may not win. Then, you want to try to sneak a couple of wins in games you aren’t suppose to win.”

      • Jim Walker

        Morgan was always adamant that the art of closing out (MLB baseball) games was a separate skill a team developed together and the actual process could vary with the same team from year to year depending on the personnel.

    • Rednat

      i totally agree. I think last night’s win was more impressive than the 12 game win streak. this was a game that we would have found a way to lose in years past. on the road against a tough american league team with bad weather and rain delays to boot. definitely a big step in the right direction

      • Jim Walker

        And that short fly McLain caught in either the 8th or 9th well out into LF field was just as big a play as the Friedl HR. We’ve seen balls in the same area with all 3 fielders converging go uncaught and the Reds paying a price for it.

        It wasn’t technically McLain’s ball to call; but, he knew he had it all the way. took charge, and gave clear signs to the other guys to give way and let him take it.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well said. We’re all learning together, which is why I suppose this all feels so shaky right now. It’s so new and different!

  6. Rednat

    for me I am just happy we have entered a new era in reds baseball i believe. the “three outcome” or “3 run HR” era that dominated reds baseball from 2000-2022 is over. We now have other ways of scoring and I think we have exciting baseball ahead of us. I credit the commissioners office for the rule changes to allow speed to be a bigger part of the game now. I think it will allow the reds to be competitive again

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Yes! I’ve been noticing that this team actually plays little ball instead of just leaning on homers.

  7. Melvin

    Good job again Mary Beth. You must have a very creative mind. πŸ™‚

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      thank you πŸ™‚ It’s fun when I’m writing, but no so much when it’s 3 AM and I just wanna sleep….

      • Jim Walker

        This is why I took an actual night game preview this week instead of a matinee; or, so I thought. Then I stayed up and wrote till 1:30AM and picked back up at 8AM after the dog’s morning nature call instead of going back to sleep. Right on matinee schedule, by 9AM I was as done as I could be till lineups and pregame notes. πŸ˜‰

  8. Tim

    Emotions aside, we have better players across the board than at any point in recent memory…at least players that are playing better. We don’t have easy outs. Team averages are higher, speed is faster and defense is better. They play hard! The bullpen is much better. The problem is simple…starting pitching is not. We have a glut of SS and 3b coming up because the best athletes tend to play those positions when they are young. We are signing these types of players (kudos) and it shows. Either move them to other positions and prepare them for the MLB or trade them for players that are (pitchers). This is the key to keeping this team from “shattering at any minute.”

  9. Andrew Brewer

    I love all the rational analysis. I have noted that the Reds were playing better ball from the beginning of the year, even if they didn’t get the wins. Once they really caught fire, it was as if they just found a way to get the win. I don’t know how this success can continue without starting pitching, but how did our Last in the League bullpen get so much better this year ? Luis Castillo won only 1/3 of his starts with the Reds, and yet he is considered a top of the line pitcher. Not all of this recent success can be explained in rational terms, though everyone strives to do so. There is a collective consciousness that has formed around their abilities and their success. How can Weaver got out there and give up 4 or 5 runs in the first inning, and the Reds have won the last 6 of his starts ? The Reds are not just hitting, they are putting their hits together. They expect to hit well, to get on base, and win ball games. I put no limits on this team even withonly one dominate starter. Maybe it’s for that reason that the Reds are excelling. Balls to the Wall baseball is something else… And I agree with you, Mary Beth, we’re all looking for something superstitious in it all, because that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Andrew, I truly appreciate this. I am still not in a place where I feel confident that this team will manage not to blow it… but that is lessening.
      It’s difficult to open the heart at times when we’re so used to having it shattered.