It’s a fun question to ponder, but settling on an answer was harder than I expected. I’ve never witnessed a no-hitter or perfect game, never seen someone homer four times or collect hit #4,192, and never experienced division-clinching walk-off heroics. After mentally rewinding through three decades of fandom (and taking a quick glance through some ticket stubs I’ve saved since childhood), however, I was able to single out five of the dozens of Reds games I’ve attended across six states over the years.
#5: Reds 4, Tigers 3 (Plant City Stadium, Plant City, Fla., March 20, 1989)
As a 10-year-old fourth-grader vacationing in Florida over spring break, I cared little about theme parks or the beach. Instead, all I wanted to do was visit Plant City, where the Reds trained at the time. After two years of watching the team on TV as often as I could, this was my first chance to see my heroes in person. That said, you’d think I’d be able to remember something about the game – in which, according to the Enquirer archives, Terry McGriff homered and Scott Scudder pitched five shutout innings – but all I can recall is sitting in the bleachers (ticket price: $4) to the right of right field and being disappointed that all the players I knew and loved were removed after a few innings of play. (Apparently I didn’t quite understand how spring training worked at the time.) Still, it was my very first Reds game, so I’d feel silly not including it here.
Side note: as I searched for information about this game, I discovered it took place the same day that the Commissioner’s office announced a “full inquiry into ‘serious allegations’” (UPI) regarding the rumored gambling habits of then-manager Pete Rose.
#4: Reds 3, Dodgers 1 (Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, Calif., Aug. 20, 2010)
Anyone who followed the Reds during the “aughts” won’t need me to remind them how miserable it was to be a fan during that decade. Believe it or not, it was even worse being a Reds fan here in Los Angeles, where they didn’t win a game for five full years. Accordingly, I was terrified when the team came to town in August of 2010 with just a 3.5-game division lead. Even though they were riding a six-game winning streak at the time, after a 15-year postseason drought, I didn’t want to witness the rupture that would precipitate their collapse.
I don’t remember Brandon Phillips going 3-for-5 with 3 RBI. I don’t recall Homer Bailey pitching seven innings of four-hit ball, or Arthur Rhodes mowing down the Dodgers in the 8th as he did with most every team that year. I remember the 9th inning like it was yesterday, though. The Reds were up by two, and I was convinced they’d find a way to choke. Even though he had 32 saves at that point, Francisco Cordero had blown six others and sported an ERA of nearly 4. As I held my sleeping 1-year-old son, I paced the top deck of Dodger Stadium nervously and watched Cordero settle in to face the heart of the L.A. order. I cheered as quietly as I could after he struck out James Loney to start the inning, but cursed like a sailor (albeit in whispers) when he gave up a single to Matt Kemp. Here it comes, I told myself.
I was wrong. On a 1-1 pitch, Casey Blake hit a weak grounder to Paul Janish, who proceeded to turn a 6-4-3 double play. Game over. I couldn’t believe it – the five-year L.A. losing streak was history, and even better, the Reds had won their season-high seventh in a row. Naturally, they dropped the next game, but when they won the getaway rubber match, I felt confident they’d hold on to win the Central.
#3: Reds 2, Mets 1 (Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio, July 15, 1990)
The summer after fifth grade, I took my first trip to Riverfront. After a 9-0 start, the Reds were cruising in the NL West and held a 7.5-game lead when I arrived in town on July 14 to see Jack Armstrong’s first appearance since starting for the National League in the All-Star Game.
During the first half, Armstrong lived up to his name, going 11-3 with a 2.28 ERA – but by the end of the second half (during which he went 1-6), he had lost his spot in the Reds’ starting rotation. It seems my maiden game at Riverfront was the beginning of the end for Armstrong, who was roughed up for five runs over 3+ innings as the Reds fell to the Mets, 6-3.
The following day’s script had a happier ending. As I wrote last week, during the second half of the 1990 season, Nasty Boy Norm Charlton was a key member of the starting rotation. I saw the first of 16 games he started that year, a remarkable 14 of which were “quality.” Against the Mets, he pitched six shutout innings and gave up only two hits before turning the game over to his fellow Nasties Rob Dibble and Randy Myers. Even better, both Reds runs were driven in by my favorite player, Eric Davis, who doubled twice.
I proceeded to take annual road trips to Cincinnati during subsequent summers, but none were as special as my initial visit. And even though I realize Riverfront wasn’t exactly an architectural jewel, it always felt like heaven to me.
#2: Reds 5, Giants 2 (AT&T Park, San Francisco, Calif., Oct. 6, 2012)
In my opinion, there isn’t a more magical word in sports than “postseason.” Unfortunately, things haven’t gone too well for the Reds after game #162 ever since they swept the Dodgers in the 1995 NLDS, during which time they’ve compiled a playoff record of 2-11 – but I’m proud to say I witnessed both of those wins.
I entered the Giants’ online postseason ticket lottery with multiple e-mail addresses, and luckily enough, one was chosen. I purchased standing room only tickets for both games – I figured I’d be too nervous to sit anyway – and for Game 1, I found a spot with a great view on the lower level right next to the press box and settled in to watch Johnny Cueto go to work.
During the 2012 regular season, the Reds’ five starting pitchers didn’t miss a single start. The injury bug struck with a vengeance in game #163, though, as after just eight pitches, Cueto exited the game with a strained back muscle. My heart sank, but I still remember the chills I felt when I saw Mat Latos jump up in the dugout and essentially will himself into the game. After Sam LeCure got the Reds through the second, Latos pitched four strong innings, yielding only one run via a Buster Posey solo shot.
From there, Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton did their jobs in the 7th and 8th, but when Aroldis Chapman came on in the 9th, it seemed like it was all for naught. Chapman was clearly in Wild Thing form as he yielded a single, threw a wild pitch and walked two batters, loading the bases with one out for the enormous Pablo Sandoval.
I’m convinced that if Sandoval had connected squarely on a Chapman fastball, it would still be in orbit today. Mercifully, he popped out to second instead. The bases were still loaded, though, and Posey came to the plate with a chance to tie the game. We learned a few days later what he could do in such situations, but tonight, following another Chapman wild pitch that trimmed the Reds’ lead to three, he struck out swinging.
I couldn’t tell you one thing the Reds did on offense that night, nor do I remember much of Bronson Arroyo’s excellent performance in following day’s victory. I still clearly recall, however, the devastation of watching Cueto exit the game, the terror of seeing Sandoval stare down a vulnerable Chapman and the jubilation of witnessing the Reds’ first postseason victory in 17 years.
#1: Reds 5, Nationals 2 (Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2013)
It seems like an eternity ago, but in 2013, Tony Cingrani was one of the Reds’ top starting pitchers. As I mentioned in a piece earlier this year, I watched him throw the best-pitched game I’ve ever seen in person that July – seven shutout innings against a formidable Dodgers team (who were in the midst of an incredible 46-10 hot streak) in which he struck out 11 while giving up just one hit and one walk.
Cingrani also struck out 11 when I saw him toss six scoreless innings against the Nationals in April, a game in which Phillips and Zack Cozart each drove in a pair of runs. This game isn’t special to me because of anything that took place on the field, though. I was in D.C. to visit my father, and this marked the first game I saw with him since the Plant City exhibition 24 years earlier. Even better, my then-4-year-old son was by my side as well. I sometimes question why I spend so much time obsessing over rich grown men playing a child’s game, but on that day, baseball meant something more. In fact, it’s irrelevant who won or lost any of the games on this list, as the memories are what truly matter.
Honorable mention: Dodgers 6, Reds 5 (Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, Calif., May 19, 2008)
On paper, it’s an unmemorable game amid an unmemorable season. In reality, it’s a game that always makes me smile whenever I think back on it.
David Weathers blew a combined 13 saves for Cincinnati in 2006 and 2007, and by the time the Reds visited L.A. in early 2008, he’d already given up 7 runs, 18 hits and 9 walks in just 14 innings. To put it mildly, I was not a fan of “Stormy” or his inability to cleanly close out a game, but at Dodger Stadium, he made it seem as if I could predict the future.
At the time, I worked with some Taiwanese clients who were well-known in their native country and temporarily working in Los Angeles. After reaching out to the Dodgers’ PR department, I arranged for them to meet L.A. pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo (who was also from Taiwan) prior to the first of a three-game series against the Reds. It was a thrill to be on the field at Dodger Stadium, even if I was admittedly more interested in the occupants of the visitors’ dugout.
Before we went to our seats, I pointed out a large Reds pitcher warming up nearby. I told my clients that the Reds would likely jump out to an early lead and gradually give it up, and that this particular pitcher – Weathers – would be the final straw. (As mentioned above, Cincinnati routinely lost at Dodger Stadium during this time frame. I’d seen this movie a few times before.)
My clients – who had never previously attended a major league game – chuckled as a 4-0 Reds lead quickly turned into a 5-5 tie. They laughed harder as Weathers was called in to pitch the ninth, just as I’d predicted. When he gave up a bases-loaded walk-off single five batters later, they were in tears. Even I had to laugh at the absurdity of it all.