Dusty Baker rolled the dice. The Reds manager played the percentages and gambled at the same time by sending pitcher Mike Leake to the plate with the tying run at second in the seventh.
If the result was any indication, it’s unlikely Baker spent any time Wednesday after the game at the new Horseshoe Casino across town. Luck wasn’t with him on this afternoon.
Leake flew out to end the seventh and then put the first two batters on base in the eighth. That started the decisive rally for the Braves, who scored five runs in the inning to kill any hopes of a second straight Reds comeback.
Atlanta won 7-2 at Great American Ball Park and took the series 2-1. It’s the first home series loss for the Reds (19-16), who have now failed in four attempts to get to five games over .500.
“That was a tough way to lose,” Baker said. “We were trying to stretch Leake out. It just didn’t work out today.”
The Braves led 2-1 through six innings on the strength of two home runs by Dan Uggla.
In the seventh, Donald Lutz singled with two outs, and Devin Mesoraco walked. Instead of pinch hitting for Leake with any of the five hitters available on the bench, Baker let Leake bat. Leake’s a .274 career hitter, and he’s hitting .286 this season. He had singled in his previous at-bat against Braves starter Mike Minor.
“I don’t know if we really had a right-hander off the bench today,” Leake said. “I like hitting off Minor, but he got one in on me. I probably could have put together a little better at-bat, but I’m an aggressive hitter. If something looks good, I’m going to swing.”
Since Leake hit for himself, Baker sent him back out to start the eighth. Jordan Schafer led off the inning with a single, and then Andrelton Simmons singled on a hit-and-run. Schafer moved to third. Those two batters collected seven of the Braves’ 11 hits.
Sean Marshall replaced Leake and gave up a single to Freddie Freeman. Schafer scored to make it 3-1.
J.J. Hoover replaced Marshall. Three batters later, Juan Fransisco, a former Red who was traded to the Braves for Hoover a year ago, hit a grand slam to right. That was the game and the series.
The Reds collected four hits off Minor. One was a solo home run by Zack Cozart to open the scoring in the third. Cozart is hitting .208, but he went 2-for-4 Wednesday and has hit safely in five of the last six games.
“I’ve been having some good at-bats,” Cozart said. “I just haven’t gotten any hits. When you don’t strike out and you put the ball in play, eventually you’re going to start getting hits. That’s what I’m trying to do.”