What better pitcher to pull the Cincinnati Reds out of their ‘Daylight Doldrums’ than Sonny Gray?
When the Reds took the Great American Ball Park field Wednesday afternoon to face the Philadelphia Phillies, the Reds were futile and foolhardy in day games — 17 wins and 37 losses.
Sonny the Invincible, though, took the field with them and in his last seven games at GABP he was 7-0.
And he hadn’t given up more than four earned runs or more than six hits in any of his 27 previous starts.
He did it again Wednesday, holding the Phillies at arm’s length for six innings, one run, four hits, until the offense could unscramble.
That didn’t come until the 11th inning when Phillip Ervin, leading off, skied the second pitch toward the right center field wall.
It was high and it was deep, but was it deep enough? Right fielder Bryce Harper nearly snagged it, but it fell into the first row, a 4-3 walk-off victory.
That’s something that has happened often to the Reds on the road — they lead baseball in getting walked off, 11 times. They’ve only walked-off three times at home.
“Yeah, it was pretty high up there,” said Ervin. “I knew it had a chance. I was watching it. I saw it going up. Harper made me a little nervous. I would have been a little upset and, whew, he almost made a good play on it.”
Ervin’s home run came against Philadelphia’s ninth pitcher of the day, Mike Vincent, a right hander. Most of the season, Ervin has been platooned, playing only against left-handed pitchers.
But he is showing of late an ability to rock right handers, too, and when asked about it, he said, “I feel like I am. I know, what do you think?”
In recent games he looks as comfortable against right handers as if he is standing in the batter’s box in casual clothes and flip flops.
When told it looks as if he can hit right handers, he smiled and said, “OK, then. As long as I have somebody on my side.”
Manager David Bell believes Ervin is as capable against right handers as he is against left handers and that circumstances dictate the way he is used.
“Yeah, he is, but it is not so much that we don’t believe he can be good against right handers,” said Bell. “We believe he can. A lot of it is that he was so good against the left handers and we had a lot of left handers to get in there against the right handers. That’s how that went done.
“But, really, the most he does it (bat against right handers) the better he gets,” Bell added. “We haven’t ruled him out against right handers. Most right handed hitters, to become every day players, have to hit right handers and we believe Phillip can do that.”
The Reds were scoreless for five innings and trailed, 1-0. Then back-to-back home runs in the sixth by Jose Iglesias and Eugenio Suarez lifted them to a 3-1 lead.
The run off Gray, the only run he gave up, came on a triple by J.T. Realmuto and a double by Rhys Hoskins in the fourth.
Gray pitched the sixth and was removed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning, down only 1-0 and owner of only 89 pitches.
“He definitely could have gone back out for one more inning, max, but he understood we’re trying to score a run,” said Bell. “It’s a tough call, but when you’re down you are trying to win games and he understood that.”
Said Gray: “David and I had a little conversation and he said, ‘We’re going to hit for you here. We’re going score this inning and put up three runs.’ I understood the situation and it was a pretty fun day.”
Fortunately, the Reds made their manager a prophet by scoring those three he promised Gray in the sixth. And it took Gray off the loser’s hook and made him the possible winning pitcher..
With one out Alex Blandino, batting leadoff, doubled and Iglesias homered to make it 2-1. Former Reds relief pitcher Jared Hughes arrived on the scene and Suarez socked his first pitch over the right field wall for a 3-1 lead.
Kevin Gausman gave up a run in the seventh and Gray’s victory disappeared when Robert Stephenson was tagged for a game-tying home run in the eighth by Realmuto.
It stayed 3-3 until Ervin’s game-ender as Raisel Iglesias, Joel Kuhnel and Matt Bowman combined to keep the Phillies off the board the final three innings.
The day, though, belonged to Ervin and Gray, who keeps getting better and better after going 4-0 in August with a 0.74 earned run average.
“He did a much as he could, pitched us into a spot where it was the offense’s turn,” Bell said about Gray. “He continues to pitch great and he is on a roll. More than that, he is getting better as a pitcher. At this point in his career, he is finding ways to get better, which is really exciting for him and for us.
“In addition to gaining in confidence he is finding ways to use his stuff. It’s fun to watch a guy like that.”
Not if you were wearing Phillies maroon.