Todd Frazier remembers the baseball R.A. Dickey threw to him a couple of years ago when Dickey threw knuckleballs for the New York Mets.
“You don’t forget those,” said Frazier. “That one hit the boat.” The boat is the riverboat replica that squats atop the batter’s eye in center field, about three miles from home plate.
Dickey pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays now and Frazier hit another home run Sunday. This one, though, didn’t hit the boat. It barely cleared the wall in right field and, in fact, right fielder Steve Tolleson took a step in before fleeing to the right field wall.
In this case, distance doesn’t matter. It cleared the wall, a two-run home run that was the difference in a 4-3 Cincinnati Reds victory.
“A knuckleball is pretty hard to hit and I was just trying to get one I could hit, something that looked like I could hit,” said Frazier. “The first two at-bats were pretty rough (two ground balls). On this one I got to a 2-0 count, nice and relaxed … it’s crazy. I didn’t think I hit hard enough to get even near the wall and fortunately it did.”
Frazier’s 17th homer came in the fifth and broke a 2-2 tie. It was his eighth this month, the most in the National League in June, and most have gone to right field or center field.
“I don’t know what’s going on because I don’t think I’ve hit a ball to left field in two weeks,” he said. “You are living right if you go the opposite way and get hits, so I’ll take it.”
Manager Bryan Price is living right, too. After the Blue Jays devastated the Reds bullpen Friday, 14-9, Price said he needed eight innings out of Mike Leake on Saturday and eight innings out of Johnny Cueto on Sunday.
He got eight from Leake, he got eight from Cueto and he got two victories. Cueto gave up only one earned run and one walk over eight innings, with a walk, a hit batter and eight strikeouts.
Price turned 51 Sunday and the efforts of Leake and Cueto came without bows and pretty packaging, but the gifts were readily accepted.
“Somebody is taking care of me,” said Price. “I don’t know if it’s my mom sending good vibes. I don’t know what it is.”
There was a breath-holding moment on Frazier’s home run, though. Cueto was on second base, having led the inning with a single, When Frazier hit the ball Cueto returned to second base to tag up in case the ball was caught.
When the ball cleared the fence Cueto did the one-legged limp from second to home plate.
“When I did that I felt something, but it was really nothing, just a cramp,” said Cueto. When he returned to the dugout the trainers immediately took him up the tunnel and worked out a knot on his leg.
And he went back on the mound and pitched three scoreless innings, giving up an eighth-inning home run by Edwin Encarnacion (his third of the series, 24th of the season), but nothing more.
The All-Star game is creeping up and both Frazier and Cueto were asked about it and gave differing answers.
Said Cueto, who is only 7-5 but leads the league with a 1.86 earned run average, leads the league in complete games with three, leads the league in opponents batting average at .167, “I don’t think about those things. All I do is work and let God decide what will happen with me. I can’t think about it because I’ve been through this before and they’ve done things to me, haven’t taken me to the game. So I don’t think about it.”
Cueto was referring to 2012, when he won 19 games and was All-Star efficient by mid-season, but St. Louis manager Tony La Russa did not take him.
Frazier, though, takes the other fork in the road.
“Some guys don’t like to talk about it, but I think it would be awesome,” said Frazier, who ranks among the leaders in home runs, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage. “You want to be a major leaguer one of your goals every year should be to be an All-Star. There is no jinxes talking about it. If you make it it is something to be proud of and maybe one day it will happen, maybe this year.”
Overlooked in Frazier’s offense production this year is his defense. He made another tote bag full of dandy defensive plays Sunday and seems to make one or two every day.
“I take pride in my third base, working with (coaches) Jay Bell and Freddie Benavides a lot,” he said. “I try to position myself to be better. I talk to them every day and we have scouting reports so I can be in the right position. That makes it easier for me.”
By the numbers right now, Cueto might not be the best starting pitcher on his team because Alfredo Simon is 10-3 with a 3.05 ERA. But Cueto doesn’t hesitate when asked if he believes he is baseball’s best pitcher.
“I’m always going to say I’m the best pitcher,” said Cueto through translator Tomas Vera. “I’m never going to say somebody else is better than me. It doesn’t matter, I’ll always say I’m better.”
Ask anybody in the Reds clubhouse who they think is the best and it is unanimous, even from Alfredo Simon, “Johnny Beisbol.”