CINCINNATI — Devin Mesoraco took all the bows and handshakes, as he should, after his game-winning walk-off home run Friday night, a 3-2 10th-inning Cincinnati Reds victory over the Atlanta Braves.
This game, though, was saved by two upstanding and outstanding outfield defensive plays perpetrated by right fielder Scott Schebler and left fielder Adam Duvall.
You won’t find them in any box score or on an statistical sheet, but they were as impactful to winning the game as Mesoraco’s crowd-pleasing game-ender.
—In the third inning, with the Braves already leading, 2-0, Brandon Phillips lined one up the right-center gap. There was a runner on second, a sure run if the ball isn’t caught. It was hit so hard, it appeared it would knock a hole in the right field wall.
Schebler, a guy who manager Bryan Price wondered if he could play right field, charged up the gap, dove, stuck up his glove on his backhand side and snagged it. Incredible. “Just a reflex, a stab at it,” said Schebler.
—In the top of the 10th, Atlanta’s Nick Markakis banged one off the left field wall. Sure double. Nope. Duvall played it quickly off the wall, spun and threw quickly to second. Markakis had to stop at first with a single. The next batter, Matt Kemp hit into a 6-4-3 double play, a double play that couldn’t have happened if Duvall hadn’t held Markakis to a single.
“Games can be lost in the third inning,” Schebler said of his catch. “They can’t be won in the third inning, but they can be lost.”
SCHEBLER, LEADING THE NATIONAL League with 16 home runs, went 0 for 4 and said, “If you aren’t getting them, you need to take them away.
“This whole team takes pride in our defense,” he added. “I’ve been on teams where that isn’t our priority, but here it is definite a priority. I mean, we work our tails off in batting practice to get ourselves into positions. The coaching staff lays the groundwork by putting us in positions with our shifting.”
Schebler said there is friendly trash talk in the clubhouse about defense — who is the best and who made the best play of the game.
“It is fun to have that kind of clubhouse competition because you come in, do a little trash talk and it ends up making you want to work harder and it is kind of a cool little balance.””
SCHEBLER ALSO MADE A COUPLE of above-the-norm catches earlier in the week in Toronto. He made a long run and slide to catch a foul ball against the Blue Jays that was No. 1 that night on ESPN’s Web Gems.
So which was better, the Toronto catch or the legal robbery of Phillips?
“Last night’s on Phillips was better because the ssituation was better and I saved a run,” said Schebler. “That guy was throwing good (Mike Fortynewicz — seven innings, no runs, two hits, 10 strikeouts) and we couldn’t afford to give up any more runs. And Bronson Arroyo was throwing good and backing him up was great. We take nothing for granted on defense, really bust our butts.”
LIKE HIS WORRIES ABOUT Schebler playing right, Price had the same concern whether Duvall could shift from third base to left field. Answer? Both have been above-and-beyond.
Of Schebler, Price said, “Scott made a dynamic play out there and combine it with a couple of plays he made in Toronto and he has had a really nice stretch of not only playing good defense, but sensational defense. The plays he made couldn’t have come at a better time.
“For a guy who came to us and we wondered if he could play right field, does he have the arm and he has played more left and center, he is just like Duvall. They’ve exceeded expectations ten-fold.”
DUVALL TALKS THE SAME DEFENSIVE language as Schebler while carrying a big stick (14 home runs, 45 RBI).
Duvall led the two-run ninth inning that tied the game with a double and scored on Eugenio Suarez’s double, but acknowledges that his play in the 10th, holding Markakis to a single on a ball off the wall, probably was bigger.
It isn’t the first time he played a ball off the wall and held the hitter to a single.
“I take pride in holding that runner at first,” he said. “I know pitchers appreciate that because that gives them a ground ball away from two outs (which is what happened), especially in that situation. If he gets to second and then that next ground ball isn’t a double play. The guy on second goes to third with one out.
“All outfielders, especially on this team, take pride in doing that,” Duvall added. “Little things like my play and Schebler’s catch help win ball games over the long season. Even though they never show up in the stats, we know they are big keys in a game.”
ASKED IF HE HAS LEARNED how to play ricochets off the wall to enable him to make that play, Duvall said, “It is something we look at in all ballparks. Everywhere I go, (coach) Bill Hatcher will go out there and hit balls into the corner to see how they ricochet. Any ball hit into the corner I like to get to it as fast as I can and get the ball back in. We practice that stuff and pay attention.”
Duvall said switching to left field from third base wasn’t as difficult as some might believe.
“Playing left field is a lot like an extension of playing third base, as far as the angles you take toward the ball. That’s how I take it.”
As they say, little things mean a lot, except with the Reds, defense is not a little thing.
AMIR GARRETT COMES off the disabled list to start Sunday’s game against the Braves. Asher Wojciechowki stays in the rotation and Lisalverto Bonilla goes to the bullpen.
So for now the rotation is Bronson Arroyo, Scott Feldman, Amir Garrett, Tim Adleman and Wojciehowski.
“Bonilla helps us more in length relief,” said Price. “He primarily pitches off the fastball/changeup. Wojo has one relief appearance and one start and he was our best starter in Triple-A.
“He has certainly earned an opportunity to pitch and show us what he is capable of doing,” Price added. “He has traveled the tough road to get here and I’d like to give him the opportunity to pitch to see where he is best suited — as a starter or reliever.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“At this point we’re just trying to find our five best options for our rotation and this is the way it is until close to the All-Star break when we should have a couple more participants (Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan). We should. Certainly. — Reds manager Bryan Price.