Joey Votto extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a …
Dusty Baker #12 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on against the San Francisco Giants in Game Five of the National League Division Series at Great American Ball Park. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI - The Cincinnati Reds ended up on the wrong side of a history-making series for the second time in their last two trips to the postseason, losing three straight at home to the San Francisco Giants to become the first team in Major League Baseball history not to win a playoff series after winning the first two on the road.
In 2010, the Reds faced some history in the form of a Game 1 no-hitter performance by Philadelphia Phillies’ pitcher Roy Halladay.
Again in Game 2 of 2010, the Reds were the first team in history to hit three batters and commit four errors in the same postseason game.
Even if you go back to 1975, the Reds won the World Series, but all anyone remembers is Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk’s game-winning home run in Game 6 that set up the Reds’ winning Game 7. Some people in Boston think the Red Sox won that series.
And there’s no real concrete “why” to explain how the Reds keep ending up on the wrong side of history, just a lot of “ifs” that might have prevented it.
Sure, you can look at the way the Reds swung the bats and say “they didn’t score enough runs,” but they were picking up hits and drawing walks, they just couldn’t get them at the right time. The Reds collectively had a .312 on-base percentage this postseason, a number close to their regular season total of .315 that won them 97 games.
If 2010’s explanation of failure was youth and inexperience, than 2012’s is about injuries and timing.
If Joey Votto doesn’t hurt his knee in July, and lose all torque and power from his body when he returns from surgery, maybe he hits a few more doubles or a home run or two to keep the Reds in this series, not to mention turn some of those short liners and soft ground balls into hard liners and fast ground balls to pick up more hits with runners in scoring position. Despite batting .389 for the series, Votto didn’t pick up a single RBI or extra-base hit in the postseason, which have both been what he has done best in his career.
If Johnny Cueto doesn’t strain his oblique on the eighth pitch he throws in Game 1, the Reds don’t have to start Leake in Game 4, and this series is a whole different story.
Injuries aside, the Reds still adjusted in Games 1 and 2 as they had done all year to make do with what they had. Phillips stepped up, knocking in 7 RBIs in the NLDS, with Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce not far behind at 4 RBIs a piece, including 3 home runs from Ludwick. And Bronson Arroyo, who’s ERA was an average 3.74 this season, came in and hurled a 1-hitter through 7 innings in Game 2.
So what the heck happened in Games 3-5?
Homer Bailey pitches a 1-hitter through 7 innings, strikes out a Reds postseason record 10 batters and they don’t win Game 3? That’s where the “ifs” start coming in.
If Brandon Phillips doesn’t try to go to third base on a wild pitch in the 1st inning and isn’t thrown out by a split-second, he scores on the plays that ensue, and the Reds win in regulation.
If Ryan Hanigan, who had three passed balls all season and only 11 in his six-year career, doesn’t let one by him and allow the Giants runners to advance to second and third in the top of the 10th, it doesn’t set up the last “if” of the game.
If Scott Rolen, an 8-time Gold Glove winner and a career .968 fielder, doesn’t get a hard hop and a speedy runner, the out is made in the top of the 10th and the Reds get to start over.
In Game 4, despite the pre-existing “if” of the Cueto injury, if Dusty Baker pulls Leake in the 5th inning after the leadoff double, or the second double that scored a run, perhaps the damage is limited.
And in Game 5?
If Zack Cozart, a career .978 fielder and Gold Glove candidate, doesn’t get the ball stuck in his glove for just his 15th error of the year on a ground ball that scores Brandon Crawford and keeps the Giants’ big sixth inning alive, the Reds avoid the next if.
If Dusty Baker pulls Mat Latos with the bases loaded facing an NL MVP candidate at the plate, maybe one of the Reds’ relievers keeps him in the ballpark.
If the Reds weren’t running on a 3-2 count from first and second with no outs in the 6th, which set up a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play that thwarted the Reds’ best chance of getting back in the game, they have another shot with two men on and 1 out to get some runs in.
If Jay Bruce goes deep on one of the 12 pitches he sees in the bottom of the 9th, it's a whole new ball game.
But the overarching “if” of the Reds 2012 postseason trip was this: If the Reds got more hits with runners on base and in scoring position, they would have scored more runs, meaning they'd win more games. One more game in this case.
In the last three games of the series, the Reds left 28 runners standing on the base-path. Seven in Game 3, 10 in Game 4 and 11 in Game 5.
In the first three games, it looked like the Reds might have been able to advance just on the back of their brilliant pitching, but the fact was at the beginning of this NLDS and the fact remains: You can’t win baseball games 0-0; especially not against a very hot-hitting Giants lineup in the month leading up to the postseason (.297).
So blame this one on what you want, whether it’s Dusty’s decision making, the injuries or one of the many ill-timed happenings throughout the last three games of this series, but hindsight is always 20/20.
A fact, not an if, is that next year this ball club will still be one of the best in baseball, and the cliché goes if they can stay healthy (or healthier in the Reds' case), they’ll be able to make some noise.
In the Reds’ fans case, they did make some noise. A lot of it, in fact, in Game 5. Be proud of that Cincinnati, and carry that through with success in mind in 2013, not failure from 2012.
And with the end of a season, I leave you with words of wisdom from yet-to-be-resigned-for-2013 Reds manager Dusty Baker, who knows a thing or two about healing wounds: "I'm proud of [the Reds] and proud they fought to the end, which they did. You've got to work a little harder this winter and this is going to take a while for this to heal, but... everything heals."
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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