Great American Ball Park belonged entirely to Homer Bailey last night.
That much was obvious in the seventh inning, when Homer reached a 3-1 count against Gregor Blanco. The same crowd that might clap (when prompted) for a strikeout, or for free pizza, actually rose on its own to loudly encourage the right-hander not to walk the Giants’ centerfielder and ruin his perfect game.
The standing ovations began in the fifth, after Homer completed each inning of work. But when Ryan Hanigan grounded out to the shortstop to end the eighth inning, the GABP crowd stood and began to cheer. Mind you, Homer Bailey was still in the Reds’ dugout.
I didn’t see a single person leave the game early.
And during the top of the ninth, the crowd chanted “Ho-mer! Ho-mer! Ho-mer!” with the passion of a life-or-death moment. Like we did during Game Three when Homer struck out six of these same Giants in a row, the second time through the lineup.
Let me state the obvious. A person whose avatar is a picture of Homer Bailey is probably not the most objective guy to write this post. In a candid moment, I’ll admit my favorite Reds’ player is the tall, 27-year-old Texan — the player I witnessed throw a no-hitter last night.
After the sixth inning, I texted a two word message to my friend Mike: insanely nervous.
Last night’s experience was the culmination of a long, glorious stretch of Homer-worship, dating back to June 2007, when I drove in from out of town to watch his first major league game (a win!) against the Cleveland Indians.
So yeah, when it comes to Homer, I’m a homer.
Judging from the atmosphere at GABP last night, I wasn’t the only one. Mother Nature may have provided the lightning on Monday, but 27,500 Homer-lovers generated the electricity on Tuesday.
I’ve made this point about Mr. Bailey and the fans before. In fact, my inaugural post for Redleg Nation was about how the hometown crowd had enthusiastically responded to Homer in an important game he pitched against the Cardinals in July 2011. It was evident that by then, Cincinnati fans had embraced Homer as an adopted son.
After Game Three, I wrote that I’d never seen a crowd respond to a pitcher they way they did for Homer during that incredible post-season performance. And at the start of this season, I noted how Homer Bailey had fired the imagination of Reds fans since he was drafted in 2004.
I’m not saying that we wouldn’t be ecstatic for a Mat Latos or Bronson Arroyo no-hitter. We surely would. But there’s something unique about Homer and his Queen City throng of homers.
Maybe it’s all the ups and downs we’ve been through with him. The hopeful first-round selection. The too-straight fastballs. The debut as the youngest player in the league at the time. The demotions back to AAA. The last nine games of 2009. The shoulder problems. The 90-pitch complete game. The stubbornness. The early-career disappointments liberally mixed with all-too-brief flashes of brilliance.
But whatever the explanation, the connection between this athlete and his audience is undeniable.
Homer’s dominance provided sufficient cause last night. Check out his pitch composition. 80 percent fastballs. He threw maybe one – one – curveball all night, supposedly in the third inning to Brandon Crawford. According to reports, catcher Ryan Hanigan couldn’t remember even that one.
Ah, that fastball. Homer reached back for 96-97 mph in the seventh inning. In the final at bat of the game, Gregor Blanco saw three 97-mph four-seamers and one at 98-mph.
“At the end, I just looked in the glove and threw it as hard as I could,” said the ever-modest pitcher.
Homer now owns the last two no-hitters in the majors. The previous person to accomplish that feat was Nolan Ryan in 1974-75. That’s an awfully appropriate coincidence considering Homer wears #34 to honor that particular fellow Texan. Ryan holds the record for seven career no-hitters, which he compiled over 773 attempts. The Bailey Express has 2 no-hitters in 127 starts.
Toward the end of 2011, in a big ol’ heap of wishful thinking, I compared Homer to Tim Lincecum, the multiple Cy Young Award winner who just happened to be Homer’s opposing second fiddle last night. Think about this for a second: If given the choice right now, no one outside of Bellevue, Washington would take The Freak over Homer Bailey.
It’s been a great twelve months for David Dewitt Bailey, Jr. He traveled to Africa where he killed a lion with “just a little stick and string,” threw the two no-hitters and rose to the occasion in October with possibly his best performance in the most important game of his life.
You’ve got to wonder what the next calendar year will bring for Homer Bailey. Whatever comes along, Homer’s homers and I will be right there cheering and cheering for him.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.