Ludwick's Bat Not Enough to Overcome 6-0 Deficit
It was winner-take-all in the NLDS Game Five at Great American Ball Park Thursday night. Neither team crossed the plate until the fifth inning when the Giant's offense erupted for six runs, capped off by a grand slam by Buster Posey. Reds fans hopes for a deep October run were quashed when their team lost three consecutive home games for the first time this season.
The Cincinnati Reds have not had a lot of postseason experience in recent years, but Thursday night they did get a generous helping of disappointment when they were eliminated by San Francisco in a 6-4 loss at Great American Ball Park. The Giants showed tremendous resiliency to win the series after being held to one run after nine innings in Game Three while down two games to none. Instead of advancing the Reds will now begin preparations for the 2013 season. It was the first series in NLDS history where the visiting team won all five games.
After much speculation over the Reds starter for Game Four the decision was made to activate Mike Leake in order to give Mat Latos and extra day’s rest. Things started off well enough for the big right-hander Thursday when he threw the first four innings without a run. That would not last however, and a Giant rally in the fifth would be all they needed for the win.
Gregor Blanco led off the inning with a single and scored the game’s first run on a triple by Brandon Crawford. Crawford crossed the plate two batters later on an error by Zach Cozart. The next two hitters reached safely via a walk and single before Buster Posey delivered the big hit of the night, a grand slam to left field. That chased Latos before Sam LeCure came in to retire the next two hitters.
The Reds didn’t give up and immediately began to chip away at the lead. Ryan Hanigan was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the inning and Drew Stubbs followed with a single. Both scored on a double off the bat of Brandon Phillips.
Ryan Ludwick recovered another run when he led off the bottom of the next inning with his third home run of the series. It appeared the Reds were not finished when Jay Bruce followed with a walk and advanced on Scott Rolen’s single. However, fearing a double play caused manager Dusty Baker to put the runners in motion on a 3-2 count to Ryan Hanigan which he took for strike three. Posey completed a DP by gunning down Bruce third. Replay showed the pitch could have easily been called ball four and Hanigan’s immediate reaction was to start walking to first. However, pitcher Matt Cain did locate it too close to take with two strikes.
The Reds continued to threaten and got a potential tying run to the plate in each of the last four innings, but the six run deficit was just too deep of a hole for escape. Superb Giants defense short-circuited a threat in the eighth. Crawford robbed a hit from Hanigan with a diving snag of a line drive. Later two runners were left on base when Angel Pagan slid to grab a shoe-top level line drive off the bat of Dioner Navarro.
The Reds crossed the plate again in the ninth. Cozart and Joey Votto singled and Ludwick drove in another run to cut the lead to two. However, Sergio Romo induced a pop-fly from Jay Bruce after battling through a twelve-pitch at-bat and then struck out Rolen to end the game.
The defeat marked the first time all season that Cincinnati lost three consecutive games at home. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Reds fans following the success of the regular season and the hot start to the playoffs. In the end they had to contend with the rotation weakened by the injury to Johnny Cueto and Posey coming up big to cap off the Giants’ rally.
The Reds were very active making deals during the offseason last year. Looking forward, one would not expect that to be the case this time around given the youth on their squad and most of their regulars still under contract. Also, the top level of their development system was depleted this year from those deals and promotions. However GM Walt Jocketty has shown that he’ll pull the trigger should he feel the right deal becomes available. Retaining the services of Ludwick should be high on this list. He might look to add infield depth should they opt not to offer arbitration to Wilson Valdez or re-sign 38 year-old Miguel Cairo. However, a couple of the top prospects remaining in the organization are infielders Didi Gregorius and Henry Rodriguez who had a cup of coffee in the majors after expansion call-ups this season.
It appears to be decision-making time for 37 year-old veteran Rolen. This is the second consecutive season he played less than 100 games while putting up stats below the standard set earlier in his distinguished career. Dusty Baker has the reputation as a “stand by your man” manager and continued to pencil him in the lineup over Todd Frazier who had a season that could win him the NL’s Rookie of the Year award. Rolen has completed his contract and is at an age when many stars face a decision about riding off into the sunset.
Another completed contract that will garner attention is Baker’s. The 63 year-old has enjoyed more success than any other Reds’ skipper in recent history. His season was interrupted recently with heart complications that were later diagnosed as a mild stroke. Baker just completed his 19th year as a major league manager and perhaps contemplating retirement also.
2012 was indeed a successful campaign for the Redlegs as they won more games than any edition of the franchise since the hallowed 1976 Big Red Machine. Though disappointed, Reds fans have good reason to remain optimistic on the current condition of the franchise. Two seasons ago they were swept in their first postseason appearance in fifteen years. Though they would obviously prefer to continue playing, now that the season is over the heartbreaker in Game Five could eventually make them even hungrier to go deeper in 2013.