Billy Ball is here, and the Reds couldn’t have scripted the opening scenes any better if they had hired M. Night Shyamlan and thrown in a surprise twist at the end in which Billy Hamilton scores for the first time and then reveals his real name is Usain Bolt.
Hamilton, whose career started to soar with the Dayton Dragons in 2011, took four years to get to the big leagues. He needed only a minute or two — and two mad dashes in the seventh inning — to score the only run in a 1-0 victory over the Cardinals.
“I ain’t been that nervous in a long time,” Hamilton said. “When I got on first base, I had chills running down. I knew I couldn’t be afraid. This was a big situation. I knew I had to get to second base. That’s my job.”
Ryan Ludwick led off the seventh with a single. Hamilton entered the game as a pinch runner. This was his big-league debut. He was called up from Triple-A Louisville on Monday as rosters expanded in September.
Cardinals reliever Seth Maness paid extra attention to Hamilton. He didn’t need a scouting report. Everyone in the Cardinals dugout, everyone in baseball, knows Hamilton broke the pro baseball record for steals in a season a year ago with 155.
Reds manager Dusty Baker knew the Cardinals knew. It didn’t matter.
“I didn’t send him out there to paint,” Baker joked.
Even with all eyes on him, including those of one of the best catchers in baseball, Yadier Molina, Hamilton dashed for second. He made it.
A man with 395 stolen bases in the minors now has one in the big leagues. Not only did he steal the base, he kept it. The Reds gave the actual base to Hamilton, and he had it by his locker after the game.
“I’m going to give it to my mom,” Hamilton said. “She’s been a big part of my life. She’s a special lady. She’s been behind me the whole time. This goes to her.”
Hamilton wouldn’t have scored, of course, without a clutch hit by Todd Frazier. Frazier failed to get a bunt down to move Hamilton to third, but he made up for that with a double to left. Hamilton scored easily.
“It was great,” Frazier said. “Just the excitement of that inning. It got my blood going.”
Manny Parra and Aroldis Chapman closed the door in the eighth and ninth. Chapman struck out the heart of the Cardinals lineup in order.
Not lost in the excitement was another brilliant performance by Homer Bailey, who earned his second win over the Cardinals in the last seven days. Bailey (10-10, 3.42) allowed two hits and one walk and struck out eight in seven innings.
Suddenly, the Reds have three wins in a row over their nemesis. The Cardinals’ lead in the wild-card race has shrunk to 1½ games.
Cardinals at Reds, 7:10 p.m., FS Ohio, 700, 1410