The Cincinnati Reds decided to try it again, do a do-over, see if this time they could get it right and not, as manager Bryan Price said, “Screw it up.”
And they succeeded in not screwing up, succeeded with a successful do-over.
They constructed an 8-0 lead Friday night against the Toronto Blue Jays and bungled it like amateur burglars, losing, 14-9.
They constructed an 8-0 lead Saturday afternoon against the same Blue Jays and this time didn’t stand around and watch the Jays circle the bases. They held on to win, 11-1.
With the bullpen depleted from too much use and too much tragedy, Reds starter Mike Leake was told the game was his, whether he pitched with efficiency or pitched erratically.
He hadn’t gone more than six innings in his last five starts, with a stiff neck intervening, after going 6 2/3 innings or more in his first nine starts.
So which would it be?
It was the efficient Mike Leake and he gave Price and the Reds bullpen exactly what it needed — peace and tranquility. Leake went eight innings, giving up one run and four hits during a 113-pitch affair. And he didn’t give up the run until Colby Rasmus homered leading off the seventh. By then the Reds led, 8-0.
“Talk about big moments? It may seem like an insignificant mid-season game without a ton of consequence, but (after Friday’s meltdown) this one had a ton of consequence,” said Price. “What Leake did today by staying in the game for eight innings saved our bullpen. He couldn’t have given us a bigger effort.”
Price said after Friday’s debacle his team showed him something with the 10-run win Saturday.
“It speaks a lot to the character of our team,” said Price. “We didn’t talk about it as a team, but we did as coaches. It was a character game, a game in which we needed to show up, needed to get the taste of Friday out of our mouth, move forward and get a win. It was a convincing win and showed our guys are into it.”
Toronto starter J.A. Happ was given the same pitch-until-you-croak mandate, but he wasn’t up to it. After retiring the first two Reds in the first inning, he walked three straight. Ryan Ludwick singled for a run, Happ walked his fourth batter of the inning, Devin Mesoeraco, forcing in the second run, and Jay Bruce scored the third run on a passed ball charged to catcher Erik Kratz.
So the Reds scored three runs on one hit and Happ needed 37 pitches to stagger through the inning.
Jay Bruce homered in the third, the Reds scored four more in the fourth to make it 8-0 and Happ labored on and on. He left for a pinch-hitter after four, having given up eight runs, seven hits and four walks.
Rob Rasmussen replaced Happ and pitched two scoreless innings before Devin Mesoraco drove his 12th home run over the left field wall, a three-run rip that gave the Reds and Leake an 11-1 lead
And with that 10-run cushion, Leake took his leave and the ball was turned over to Carlos Contreras for his major-league debut after a recall Saturday from Class AA Pensacola.
There would be no Blue Jays comeback this time. Contreras pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out to end the game.
“(Pitching coach) Jeff Pico had a conversation with Leake this morning about how we needed him to stay in the game,” said Price. “Everyone knew it. We wouldn’t have had to have that conversation with Mike. He is fully aware of what we had going on (in the bullpen.”
Leake, indeed, knew the score, knew the expectations, knew what the team counted upon him to do.
“I did my best to give them a quick and productive game,” said Leake. “I stayed aggressive. It was my job to not let them creep back into the game like they did Friday. I feel that’s my job every time out and if I don’t this then I didn’t do my job.”
Of his chat with Pico, Leake said, “I knew we needed something quick and without help from the bullpen. But it isn’t like you can do it on command. The best thing you can is keep a positive mindset and an attack-mode mindset. Just get a strike in the first two pitches, then go after them.”
His catcher, Mesoraco, said it all bounced back to Leake and added, “Dusty Baker always said momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. Leake gave up exactly what we needed. We were able to put early runs on the board and keep adding.”
And they didn’t let the Jays catch a second breath and begin staging any comeback.