In the early days of Hara Arena, when Lefty McFadden ran the first edition of the Dayton Gems of the International Hockey League, public address announcer Billy Hilbert used to admonish fans leaving a game before it was over by yelling at them on the microphone, “Never leave a hockey game.”
It applies even more to baseball games, even more than in any other sport. There is no clock, so time can’t run out on a team. As baseball essayist Roger Angell once wrote, a baseball game could last through infinity as long as the visiting team never made the last out. The game is never over until the last out is recorded. Or as Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”
SO FOR THOSE WHO went to bed or abandoned the Cincinnati Reds-St. Louis Cardinals game Monday night late in the game, you missed the most improbable meltdown and the most implausible finish one could ever imagine.
Not even Bernard Malamud, author of ‘The Natural,’ could conjure up a finish like this.
Some of you went to bed with the Reds leading, 4-0, in the eighth inning, right? Some of you headed for bed when the Reds led in the bottom of the ninth, 4-0, with two outs and a runner on first, right?
Never leave a baseball game.
ALL CLOSER TONY CINGRANI had to do was get one more out and Reds starter Cody Reed would have his first major league victory. Over six innings he held the Cardinals to no runs and four hits.
Neither Cingrani nor Ross Ohlendorf could record another out. Seven straight Cardinals reached base and five scored for a 5-4 St. Louis victory.
It was a gift presented to the Cardinals with a bow around the package and a card that said, “Enjoy.”
Cingrani let in three runs and had the bases loaded when Ohlendorf came in. He was last seen Friday night facing one batter in Pittsburgh and that batter, Sean Rodriguez, hit a game-winning walk-off home run.
Ohlendorf, who has given up 10 home runs, walked 20 and hit five batters in 47 1/3 innings and lost seven games, didn’t give up a home run this time. It would have been less painful if he had — a quick stab to the heart.
Instead, he permitted the Cardinals to peck at the Reds like vultures on a carcass. First, Ohlendorf walked Matt Adam on a full count, forcing in the tying run.
Of all the ways to give up a walk-off win — wild pitch, passed ball, error, base hit, home run, forfeit — Ohlendorf went up-and-in on Yadier Molina and hit him with a pitch. Game over. Cardinals win. Molina trotted toward first and slid into the bag.
A walk-off hit-by-pitch. Only the 2016 Cincinnati Reds could do that, the team of the year for creating ways to lose games.
And it begs the question: ‘Why is a 34-year-old journeyman pitcher with a 30-and-41 career record and a 4.82 career earned run average on the pitching staff of a team presumably rebuilding, constructing a team for the future?
KNOWING MY BASEBALL-WRITING brethren, there was much cursing and muttering in the Busch Stadium press box. As a game nears its end and a team is up 4-0 with two outs, only one out to end the game, we’ve all written our stories, just waiting for that last out to push the key on the laptop to dispatch the story back to the office.
Instead, cursing and muttering, everybody wiped out their stories and started over, tying furiously and hurriedly because they are on deadline.
Gone was a glorious story about Reds starter Cody Reed, who started the game 0-and-6 with a 7.30 earned run average. It was a passion play story about the 23-year-old left hander finally finding success by shutting out The Dirty Birds on no runs and four hits, finally turning the corner in his embryonic major league career.
Then like Little Miss Muffet’s spider, along came Tony Cingrani and Ross Ohlendorf to scare away Reed’s victory.