Every writer on deadline in the press box had one story written late Tuesday night. Devin Mesoraco and Shin-Soo Choo had another story in mind.
Mesoraco rescued the Reds from certain defeat in the ninth with a game-tying, pinch-hit, two-out, two-strike home run, just over the glove of the Braves center fielder B.J. Upton. The next batter, Choo, gave the Reds their first lead of the series and an improbable walk-off victory with a blast into the bullpen in center at Great American Ball Park.
A 4-3 loss marked by missed opportunities became a 5-4 victory that will be remembered for two of the biggest hits of the season.
“When Mesoraco’s ball went up, it looked like Upton had a bead on it,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “It looked like he might have caught it from where we were. Choo’s ball, I lost it in the sky someplace. All I know is everyone started jumping up and down. Boy, that’s exciting. That’s why you play nine.”
It was the 1,600th victory of Baker’s career, and now he’s all alone in 18th place in baseball history.
“That’s one of the best victories I can remember,” he said. “It’s quite an honor to pass my old skipper, Tommy Lasorda. I tied him against my old club, the Cubs, and I passed him against my original club, the Braves.”
It was Choo’s second home run of the game and his team-best seventh home run of the season.
“That’s good for the team,” Choo said. “Cincinnati had a lot of comeback games last year and a lot of walk-off homer games. We never give up.”
Choo’s blast wouldn’t have been possible if not for Mesoraco. It was the first home run of the season by a Reds catcher, and it came against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who had allowed just one home run in his first 13 appearances.
“I was just trying to battle, put a good swing on the ball,” Mesoraco said. “Dusty always says, ‘With two strikes, look for the hardest pitch away.’ That’s what it was. I stayed on it, which was a good thing. It went the other way. I knew I squared it up. I wasn’t sure it was a homer. I was hoping.”
For the second straight night, the Braves seized an early 3-0 lead. They needed three innings to get that lead on Monday against Bronson Arroyo, but just one inning on Tuesday against Homer Bailey.
Andrelton Simmons, the star on Monday with two home runs out of the eight hole, batted leadoff in this game and started things off with a double in the first.
Bailey struck out B.J. Upton, but then walked his brother J.J. Upton and then Freddie Freeman. He struck out Evan Gattis and was on the verge of getting out of the jam, only to give up back-to-back singles to Brian McCann and Dan Uggla. McCann’s hit scored two runs, and Uggla’s made it 3-0.
Bailey settled down after his early troubles, even as his pitch count soared. He recorded the first six outs all by strikeout, not surprising because the Braves lead the big leagues with 9.3 strikeouts per game.
Bailey left after five innings, having thrown 93 pitches. He gave up only one more run after the first on a one-out RBI single by Freeman in the fifth.
“I felt pretty good,” Bailey said. “It was more of a control thing than anything. I just kind of pulled the throttle down. I backed off as much as I could. I knew how aggressive they were. I knew I would have to get a lot of early-count outs. They’re a good-hitting team.”
Meanwhile, the Reds couldn’t get much going early against Braves starter Kris Melden. He gave up a solo home run to Choo in the third. That was the Reds’ first hit, and it was Choo’s sixth home run, tying him briefly with Todd Frazier for the team lead.
The Reds started a promising rally in the fifth. Jack Hannahan walked with one out, and then Corky Miller, with just one hit in 12 at-bats this season, hit one of the longest singles you’ll ever see, a line drive off the wall in left.
Donald Lutz, pinch hitting for Bailey, followed with an RBI single. The Reds had runners at first and second with the top of their order coming up, but Choo struck out and Cozart flied out to end the threat.
The Reds, who rank 23rd in baseball with a .195 average with runners in scoring position and two outs, wasted another opportunity in the sixth. Joey Votto led off the inning with a double and moved to third on a long fly ball to center by Brandon Phillips, but he was left standing there after Jay Bruce struck out and Xavier Paul lined out hard to third.
Those missed chances loomed large when the Reds climbed within one run in the eighth. A sacrifice fly to center by Phillips scored Votto to make it 4-3.
But the Reds made up for it with the two stunning blasts in the ninth.