Brandon Phillips had a huge smile on his face as he stood on third base Saturday in the sixth inning. Even by Phillips’ standards, this was a joyous look. He joked with the umpire behind him. He listened intently as third-base coach Chris Speier whispered in his ear.
It was the smile of someone who knew something almost everybody in the park did not — the squeeze play was on.
Seconds later, Phillips broke for home. A perfect bunt by Derrick Robinson made Phillips’ dash for the plate an easy one. He leaped forward with both arms outstretched and landed left-foot first on home plate.
Just like that, after a frustrating day at the plate against Cubs starter Travis Wood, the Reds had a 3-2 lead, and they tacked on two more in the inning to beat the Cubs 5-2 before a sellout crowd of 40,909 at Great American Ball Park.
Reds manager Dusty Baker isn’t crazy about calling for the squeeze, but he might want to rethink that position after the play lifted the Reds to their fifth straight victory and 13th in their last 15 games.
“We had a good bunter, and we had a good baserunner,” Baker said. “And we had a guy who was throwing strikes. If a guy’s throwing balls or a lot of breaking balls, it would be difficult. We wanted to get the run.”
Baker also wanted the win for starting pitcher Homer Bailey, who struck out eight and allowed two runs in six innings.
“He’s deserved a whole lot more than his 3-3 record indicates,” Baker said. “That was a good win for us and a great win for Homer.”
The Reds beat the Cubs for the seventh time in eight games this season and for the 16th time in the last 18 meetings. For a moment at least, pending Saturday’s late games, the Reds (31-18) were tied with the Cardinals and Rangers for the most wins in baseball.
For the first five innings, it looked as if Wood, who has pitched so well this season for the last-place Cubs, would beat his former team for the first time. Wood set down the Cubs in order in the first two innings, was staked to a 2-0 lead in the top of the third and stranded two runners in the third.
The Reds finally got to Wood in the fourth as Todd Frazier drove in Phillips with a sacrifice fly, but Wood got back on track with a perfect fifth. Still, his pitch count climbed in those innings, and that may have played a part in the Reds’ four-run sixth.
The winning rally started with a leadoff walk by Joey Votto, who has reached base in 46 of 49 games, and a single by Phillips. Then Frazier singled to score Votto and tie the game and send Phillips to third. That set the stage for the squeeze play.
Surrounded by reporters after the game, Robinson wasn’t surprised to be talking about the bunt. He’s been talking about bunting his whole life, he said, because that’s always been a big part of his game. He even spends time in the offseason working on bunting.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” he said.
At the plate, Robinson thought to himself, “Just put the ball in play. But not in the air.”
“I kind of was expecting (the call),” the rookie left fielder said. “We had talked about it in the past. That was the perfect situation right there. It wasn’t easy, but it was a fastball.”
Cubs at Reds, 1:10 p.m., FS Ohio, 1410, 700