Crippled by base-running blunders and squandered scoring chances the first two weeks of the season, the Cincinnati Reds offense finally found the fuse and detonated early and often Sunday afternoon against Tampa Bay.
Devin Mesoraco homered and drove in a career-high four runs and Chris Heisey launched his first career grand slam as the Reds routed the Rays 12-4 before a crowd of 34,307 at Great American Ball Park.
Joey Votto also homered and Jay Bruce doubled and drew a career-high four walks as the Reds recorded a season-high 13 hits to go along with the season-high 12 runs.
“It was just a matter of time,” said Reds starting pitcher Tony Cingrani (1-1), who was the beneficiary of the outburst, earning the win by allowing two runs on five hits over 6.1 innings.
“Winning is the name of the game, so a 2-1 win would have felt just as good,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “But going out there and scoring 12 runs and having a lot of good things come out of it was big.”
Limited to just one run in the first two games of the series – both losses – the Reds grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the second when Zack Cozart delivered a bases-loaded double off Tampa’s Cesar Ramos (0-1), a reliever who was making his first start of the season and just his second in his last 60 appearances in place of the injured Matt Moore.
Cingrani gave up a two-run homer to Ben Zobrist in the third to tie the score, but the Reds piled on from there, starting with Votto’s two-run homer that chased Ramos from the game in the bottom of the third and was followed by Mesoraco’s three-run bomb that made it 7-2.
“I feel comfortable and confident up there,” said Mesoraco, who is hitting .500 in four games since coming off the disabled list with an oblique injury.
He added a sacrifice fly in the fifth and singled in the sixth to finish 2 for 3.
“He has a much better approach,” Price said. “For a guy that’s got some power, he fights during his at-bats to put the ball in play. He’s a tough guy with two strikes. He’s going to punch out every now and then, but he does a tremendous job of battling his way through an at-bat. He fought off some great pitches today and then ended up coming up with the big three-run home run.”
The Rays got another two-run homer from Zobrist off reliever Nick Christiani in the seventh to make it 7-4, but after Tampa reliever Heath Bell intentionally walked Bruce to load the bases in the eighth, Heisey hit a pinch-hit grand slam that Price called “the icing on the cake.”
Brandon Phillips added three hits, Cozart had two and Bruce scored four runs to give the struggling offense a much-needed jolt.
“The key early in the season is not losing faith,” Price said. “To me, pressure is self-induced. So it’s a matter of keeping the faith. We understand that this is a good team. Everyone in there knows it. So the frustration becomes the biggest challenge for our club.
“It’s just a matter of going out there and understanding we’re going to play 162 games and we’re going to win a good bunch of games,” he added. “But we’d like to see guys start to relax and just be themselves and play the type of game we’re capable of playing. I think this is an indication that we’re getting closer to doing that.”