(Ed.: Please welcome Steve Mancuso, a new contributor here at the Nation. Most of you know him from his frequent comments. Today, we’re giving him the floor to discuss what he saw yesterday afternoon.)It was the warmest, longest, most widespread standing ovation for a Reds player that I can remember. David Dewitt Bailey, Jr. may hail from the Lone Star state, but the applause he received yesterday as he exited the game was a clear sign that he’s becoming an adopted son of Cincinnati.
Embracing Homer hasn’t been easy for the average Reds fan. The Texas-sized expectations created a high hurdle. The Reds selected him out of La Grange High School as the seventh overall player in the 2004 draft, having been named by USA Today the National High School Player of the Year. When do the Cy Young awards start arriving, we all asked?
The false (and bad) starts kept fans at arms’ length. Yes, Homer won his debut in June 2007, against the Cleveland Indians, and I was one of thousands who flocked to GABP to watch the phenom’s first game. But everyone now agrees he wasn’t nearly ready. There were injuries, fastballs that were too straight, more injuries, curveballs that were too loopy. He was too stubborn to accept coaching. We read about all that and more.
Even this year, there have been protests that he hasn’t proven anything yet. He loses his composure, is easily distracted. Some even have wondered whether his nickname was apt for more than just a tribute to his grandfather.
But if you’ve been paying close attention, you can tell that Homer really has turned a giant corner. Take away five pitches and he’d be enjoying an unambiguously exceptional year. The Cy Young trophies may never arrive. But a pitcher who can win big games now has.
Most of the fans on their feet today probably didn’t know that Homer leads the 2011 Reds starting pitchers, including Johnny Cueto, in K/BB and xFIP. They didn’t know and didn’t care. What then explains today’s cheer?
The vibe in the park and the context had a lot to do with the size of the ovation. Today’s game may have represented only one out of 162, although against a bitter rival. But being the swing game of the series, it was an early second-half indicator if the Reds were moving in the right direction or backwards. As we filed into the park, or followed on our available media option, we wondered, would Homer rise to the occasion?
He sure did. Against a determined and powerful Cardinal lineup, 25-year-old Homer Bailey followed Brandon Phillips’ lightning bolt Friday night with an afternoon of thunderous pitching.
And Cincinnati fans showed him the appreciation he’d earned.
It also occurred to me that if Walt Jocketty saw what I witnessed from my seat in Section 130, he’d scratch Homer’s name off of any trade list.