McCoy: Stephenson grand slam leads Reds past Angels

On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson smashed a 433-foot home run into the left field upper deck that left his bat at 111 mph.

It netted him and the Reds one run.

On Saturday night, Stephenson lofted a 355-foot home run inside the right field foul pole that left the bat at 98.5 mph.

It netted him and the Reds four runs.

Location, location, location.

Both home runs were big factors in the Reds winning the first two games of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels in the Great American Ball Park.

His long-distance home run Friday broke a 1-1 tie and the 2-1 lead stood until the Reds scored five runs in the eighth inning of a 7-1 win.

On Saturday, the Angels scored two in the top of the first and it was 2-1 when Stephenson came to bat with the bases loaded. He unloaded them with his first career grand slam to give the Reds a 5-2 lead and used it for a 7-5 victory.

“I wasn’t sure if it was going to stay fair or go foul and I’m glad it stayed fair,” said Stephenson during his appearance in the post-game interview room.

In addition to Stephenson’s early work, relief pitcher Nick Martinez pitched three scoreless innings to preserve starter Graham Ashcraft’s third victory.

Stuart Fairchild, the team’s No. 1 handyman, contributed two hits, a walk, drove in two runs and scored a run.

Spencer Steer, the team’s best all-around player, emerged from a 2-for-18 slide with three hits and two runs scored.

Stephenson made Martinez a point of emphasis for the victory. He arrived in the game with a 7-5 lead and kept it at 7-5 for three innings.

“That was something we really didn’t have last year, that swing guy,” said Stephenson. “Brent Suter can do it as well. It’s huge. For some reason, if the starter doesn’t go long, we have a guy  that can eat up three or four innings.

“It’s huge for the team in that the bullpen doesn’t have to be used as much.”

Fairchild can be found at about any position and manager David Bell calls him, “An important piece to our puzzle, a guy who can do a lot of things.”

Said Fairchild, who had an RBI double in the first before Stephenson’s grand slam and an RBI single in the fifth, “Towards the end of last season I started to feel good and I knew I was on to something. It was different than anything I had in previous seasons and it showed up this spring and the early part of this season. I am going to try to keep things going, keep things rolling.”

Fairchild was on third base when Stephenson pushed a grand slam down the right field line.

“That was a sweet view,” he said. “I knew when he hit it, I said, ‘OK, that’s gone,’” Fairchild added. That put us ahead big and we kept the momentum from there.”

After his grand slam in the first, Stephenson came to bat in the fifth inning with the bases loaded, a chance for a second grand slam, but he struck out.

After giving up two runs in the first, Reds Ashcraft pitched four scoreless innings and took a 7-2 lead into the sixth.

But he gave up three runs in the sixth, including a two-run home run to Miguel Sano, his third hit of the night.

After scoring five in the first against Angels left-hander Patrick Sandoval, the Reds failed to take advantage of Sandoval’s wildness and outwardly displayed emotional frustration.

He walked five and gave up six hits, but the Reds went three innings before disposing of Sandoval in the fifth inning.

Some shady base-running foiled the Reds.

Fairchild walked leading off the third but was picked off first base.

Elly De La Cruz walked leading off the fourth and was balked to second. With no outs, he tried to steal third and was thrown out.

The Reds scored two important runs in the fifth on an infield single by Jonathan India, a walk to Spencer Steer, a run-scoring single by Fairchild and a bases loaded walk to De La Cruz to make it 7-2.

The Angels obviously wanted no part of De La Cruz, walking him the first four times he batted, the second and walks on four pitches each.

After the walk to De La Cruz, the Reds had the bases loaded withs one out, primed for a big inning, but Stephenson struck out and Santiago Espinal popped out.

Then came the Angels’ two-run sixth that cut Cincinnati’s lead to 7-5.

De La Cruz’s fourth walk came with two outs in the seventh and he sprinted to third when Stephenson’s ground ball went between second baseman and former Red Brandon Drury’s legs like a croquet wicket for an error.

The mini rally died when former Cincinnati relief pitcher Hunter Strickland struck out Espinal, leaving matters at 7-5.

Number nine batter Nolan Schanuel led the seventh with a single against Reds relief pitcher Martinez. Then he retired the next three, including Mike Trout.

Trout has been invisible offensively the first two games — 1 for 8, a single for the series and enmeshed in a 1 for 14 mini-slump.

Drury singled with one out in the eighth, but Strickland retired the next two to preserve the 7-5 lead.

And then it was closing time and Alexis Diaz zipped to it with a 1-2-3 inning, ending it with his 50th career save with Trout kneeling on deck.

“Alexis is one of the best in the game, an All-Star last year and we believe going into the ninth. . .we love our chances,” said Fairchild.

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