CINCINNATI — Nick Martini stepped up to the lectern in the interview room at Great American Ball Park wearing a black T-shirt with a Cincinnati Reds logo inside a drawing of home plate with swirling colors of purple, blue, yellow and white. On the back right shoulder in the same swirling colors was the phrase “I wanna have some fun.”
Perhaps when the shirts designed and ordered by game planning coach Jeff Pickler were delivered to the home clubhouse, it seemed like asking a bit too much.
The Reds were coming off a trip that saw them lose series to two of the teams ahead of them in the wild-card standings, leave one of their teammates in California with COVID-19, have two more test positive, and have a list of TBDs in the rotation. And that was before the day started with players piling into the clubhouse just after 9 a.m. for a doubleheader in the latest biggest series of the season.
Not only did the Reds drop a disappointing 6-2 decision in the opening game, but Graham Ashcraft, the only member of the rotation on the active roster from Opening Day, left that game early and went to get an MRI on his ailing right great toe, leaving a question mark on his status as the only listed starter for the Reds for next week’s three-game series against the Seattle Mariners.
So, fun? Well, it would seem to be out of the question. Until it wasn’t.
Martini hit a score-tying homer and Noelvi Marte hit a walk-off single in the ninth inning of the second game of the doubleheader to give the Reds a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs in the latest biggest win of the season.
After Marte, in his 13th game in the big leagues, walked it off and was doused in Powerade, he entered the clubhouse to the loud beats of the song that inspired the shirt, “Fun” by Kaskade, Brohug and Mr. Tape. The 2018 house song doesn’t have lyrics that venture intellectually far from the line Pickler chose for the back, but it is pretty catchy and has the type of upbeat tempo you’d expect to hear in a spin class.
“I wanna go out/Dress up real nice and find someone/Who’s ready to run/But most of all/I wanna have some fun,” the song notes. And, well, every single word in the three-minute song is in those five lines, if not in that exact order.
The Reds, once again, were having fun, fun, fun on a day that could’ve been anything but.
“After the first game, (Elly De La Cruz) and I talked to each other and said we have to go out and get a victory in this second game today,” Marte said, according to Reds team interpreter Jorge Merlos. “It just gave us some inspiration to go out there and do everything we could to get a victory today.”
Marte had two hits in the first game and was hitless when he came to the plate with two outs in the ninth of the 2-2 game.
The Reds trailed 2-1 going into the ninth against Cubs closer Adbert Alzolay. Alzolay struck out De La Cruz to start the inning but gave up the score-tying homer to Martini. Christian Encarnacion-Strand followed with a single and was lifted for pinch runner Stuart Fairchild, who stole second and went to third on an error by Cubs catcher Yan Gomes as Will Benson struck out.
Gomes walked out to talk to Alzolay with a runner on third as Marte came to the plate.
“I felt kind of zoned in and I knew I was ready to look for my pitch right there,” Marte said.
That pitch, it turned out, was a slider out over the outer third of the plate. That was the first pitch Alzolay threw to Marte, and the Reds third baseman lined it up the middle at 104.9 mph for an easy RBI single.
Marte lifted his arms in celebration immediately after contact, started running up the first-base line with his arms up before making a circular motion with his right hand while looking at the Reds bench. The first player to him was De La Cruz, with his fellow Dominican jumping into his arms. Fun, fun, fun.
“There’s always challenges, and you have choices to make every single day, and our team chose to just keep playing, and that’s happened time and time again,” Reds manager David Bell said. “That’s what it takes to be a good team.”
It also takes a sense of calm and belonging. The moment with the game on the line wasn’t too big for Marte, just like it hasn’t been for the plethora of Reds rookies.
Marte capped off the Reds’ eighth walk-off victory of the season, the third in their black City Connect uniforms and the fifth time in a row the decisive blow has come from the bat of a rookie, following Matt McLain (June 6), Benson (June 7), Spencer Steer (June 30) and Encarnacion-Strand (Aug. 16).
“The confidence level that these guys have coming up through the minor-league system definitely has a direct correlation to their big-league success,” said 31-year-old outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who joined the team Friday but saw these Reds rookies last week as a member of the Los Angeles Angels as Cincinnati “kicked our ass” in a sweep.
With everything that happened Friday — not to mention a nine-hour delay on the tarmac Sunday in Phoenix with at least three people who would later test positive for COVID-19 — it would be easy to see the Reds’ magical season slipping away.
In his short postgame news conferences between games, Bell deflected a question about the sky falling, saying, “I’m forward thinking at this point — we have game two.”
Bell said he knew it was a precarious point in the season, with the Reds having fallen two games out of the final wild-card spot, a full game behind the Arizona Diamondbacks, who trailed the third wild-card team, the San Francisco Giants, by a game.
With a rookie pitcher, Lyon Richardson, slated to start Friday who hadn’t recorded more than 13 outs in a start since he was up the road in Class-A ball in Dayton on Aug. 19, 2021, it didn’t seem like the best setup for success.
Yet as Bell made his way through the clubhouse between games, he said he could sense that in the room, there was no panic. The mood was, oddly, fine.
“The more I’m around our team and the more I’m around our players, the better they make me feel,” Bell said. “I don’t know if it’s supposed to work like that, but just being around them, seeing the positivity. It was a tough day, whatever — and we acknowledge that, we’re not faking it — but when it came time for the game, everyone was back to business.”
Richardson walked the bases loaded in addition to striking out the side in his 37-pitch first inning. The 23-year-old Richardson had Tommy John surgery in 2022 and has been brought back deliberately this season, maxing out at four innings in the minors before reaching the fifth for the first time in Anaheim last week, recording one out in the inning. He left again in the fifth, but after wiggling out of trouble in the first, he settled down and was charged with two earned runs, the second coming after he left the game.
Richardson kept the Reds in the game long enough that the bullpen could piece together the rest and hold the Cubs scoreless along the way.
Down one in the ninth, Martini’s fifth career big-league homer tied the score. And as outsiders fixated after the game on what the team had overcome on the day, those inside had to be reminded of the context of those questions.
“We’ve said a lot today that winning cures all, so just let’s go out and one game at a time, one inning at a time, one moment at a time, just figure it out tomorrow,” Bell said. “This time of year, it’s the best. To be playing meaningful games, I’m very grateful for that opportunity. We don’t want it to be easy. We haven’t asked for it to be easy, and it’s definitely built up the strength of our team and paid off today.”
It might not have been easy, but it sure was fun.
(Photo of Will Benson and Noelvi Marte: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)
C. Trent Rosecrans theathletic.com
2023-09-02 13:54:23 , "Benson Arizona" – Vivrr Local