The ogre is gone, the spectre of a seven-game losing streak wiped off the scoreboard.
But it wasn’t easy and Cincinnati Reds pitcher Mike Leake pretty much did it by himself on a rainy Saturday night in Great American Ball Park that ended with a 1-0 Reds victory.
“It figures it would be a 1-0 game, doesn’t it,” said manager Bryan Price. “I was trying to remind myself to breathe a little bit.”
It was a game in which the Reds finally put all the pieces together, a completed crossword puzzle instead of a pile of jumbled unconnected pieces.
“We didn’t score a lot of runs, but we did play defense, pitched well, had some timely hitting and played some fundamental baseball,” said Price.
After waiting two hours beyond the scheduled starting time while it rained, Leake held the Atlanta Braves to no runs and two hits over 6 2/3 innings.
And when his hit-challenged teammates couldn’t get him any runs, he took bat into hand and did it himself.
With the score 0-0, Leake led the sixth inning with a double to the left field corner off Atlanta starter Ervin Santana, only the second hit by the Reds. Billy Hamilton bunted Leake to third and Brandon Phillips singled him home, the only run he needed and the only run he would get.
And it was only the second run they had scored in their previous 26 innings.
“Now I’m going to have to hear tomorrow what a great hitter he is,” said Brayan Pena, Leake’s catcher. “During the two-hour delay he sat at his locker holding a bat instead of a ball, so y0u know he thinks he is a good hitter.”
Leake encountered his only difficulty in the seventh when he gave up a leadoff double to Andrelton Simmons. But he quickly struck out two dangerous hombres, Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton, and appeared out of trouble.
But he then walked both Chris Johnson and Evan Gattis, filling the bases.
Manager Bryan Price visited the mound and after a short discussion Leake was replaced by Jumbo Diaz. Tommy LaStella lined one at shortstop Zack Cozart’s feet and he short-hopped it before tossing to second for an inning-ending force play, preserving Leake’s 1-0 lead.
Earlier in the series, Cozart made a flattened-out diving stop on LaStella to get an inning-ending force play.
“The diving play was easier,” said Cozart. “On a ball hit right at you like tonight’s you don’t know how it is going to bounce. I hoped to just block it, body it up, but luckily it short-hopped into my glove.”
Jonathan Broxton got into a bit of mischief in the eighth when he gave up a two-out double to Emilio Bonifacio. He quickly extricated himself from the problem by striking out Simmons on three pitches.
That left it up to Aroldis Chapman, who threw 36 pitches in two innings in Friday’s 3-1 12-inning loss. Price was surprised Chapman said he could pitch Saturday. And did he ever.
He struck out the side to end it — whiffing the filet mignon of the Atlanta batting order (Freeman, Upton, Johnson.
Chapman threw 15 pitches, 12 fastballs and 11 were above 100 mph, giving Chapman 393 pitches 100 mph or over this season.
“He said he was ready to go and he looked like he really wanted that opportunity,” said Price. “I was surprised that he was available to pitch and I was very impressed that he was.”
Of Leake, Price said, “Simmons got that double (to lead off the seventh) but Leake got those two big punchouts (Freeman and Upton) and then the next two, Johnson and Gattis, handled the strike zone to get those walks.”
That’s when Price went to the mound — the Reds leading, 1-0 with the bases loaded and two outs.
“I went out there because I wanted to talk to him and he was very honest with me,” said Price. “He said, ‘I can get this next guy but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m running out of gas a little bit.’
“Once a guy says he is started to feel it, you always regret it when you leave him in,” said Price. “That made the decision easy to go to Jumbo. Mike was very honest and I appreciate it. I would have hated it if he said he was out of gas and I left him in for a two-run single. That was the biggest decision of the ballgame, for him to be honest and say, ‘I’m cooked.’”
This time it worked. The last Reds victory was over a week ago and Price said, “It wasn’t just the fact we lost seven in a row, it was the fashion in which we were losing them. They were gut-wrenching and not like the 8-0 loss in the (Atlanta) opener. And long win streaks start with win No. 1.”