I’ll begin with a confession: Twice in the past 27 years, I actually considered becoming a Dodgers fan.
The first time was as a 13-year-old in November of 1991, when Eric Davis was traded. As I touched on this in my introductory Redleg Nation column last year, I’ll let cut and paste do their jobs:
His posters adorned my bedroom walls; his baseball cards filled two separate binders; his #44 graced the jerseys of every sport I played (or at least the ones where I could choose my number). Now, he was gone… I found myself torn — I wanted Davis to succeed in Los Angeles, but I was never able to become comfortable with the idea of rooting for another team, especially one in the Reds’ own division. And while I didn’t obsess over their stats to the extent I did with Davis, I still loved watching and cheering on players such as Barry Larkin, Hal Morris, Chris Sabo and Paul O’Neill and ultimately decided to continue doing so.
The second time was six years later, when I moved to Los Angeles to attend college. I knew that I was picking somewhere to live just as much as I was picking a school, so one of my most important criteria was that the university be in a National League city, which would guarantee that I’d get to see the Reds in person for at least one series each year.
While I had no desire to abandon more than a decade’s worth of fandom, I entertained the thought of also cheering for my new hometown team – a notion that lasted all of one game. Before I saw the Reds play at Dodger Stadium, I attended a game there soon after I headed west. Although L.A. traffic is admittedly abysmal, I was still appalled at the fact that so many “fans” didn’t arrive until the third inning and then left during the seventh. That might sound petty, but it was enough to make my blood boil – and more important, make me realize that that blood will always be 100% red.
(For the record, as a National League purist, I never even considered becoming an Angels fan.)
That said, although I have 162 opportunities each year to attend local major league games, the only times I make an effort to do so are when the Reds come to town. Unfortunately, I had another commitment on Friday night that caused me to miss Matt Harvey’s debut in a Cincinnati uniform, the first time I’ve missed a Reds game at Dodger Stadium in more than a decade. Still, as I wrote last week, Thursday’s series opener was a wonderful, if unexpected, ray of sunlight amid a stormy season (there I go with the weather metaphors again!), and I was cautiously optimistic going into Saturday’s game.
That optimism fizzled before the end of the 1st inning, however. After leadoff hitter Chase Utley lined out to center, Homer Bailey yielded back-to-back singles. He rebounded to strike out the Dodgers’ clean-up hitter, Cody Bellinger, but then walked the next batter to load the bases. I feared the worst, but Bailey coaxed a groundout to end the inning.
Unfortunately, he didn’t look any better in the 2nd, giving up another two hits and throwing a wild pitch. Once again, however, the Dodgers failed to score. That changed in the 3rd, when Bellinger took Bailey deep to get the home team on the board. From there, the Dodgers added a run in each of the next two innings, and by the end of the 5th, the Reds were down 3-1. Considering the team’s recent track record at Dodger Stadium, I didn’t like the odds of a comeback.
But come back, they did. A three-run 6th inning home run by Scott Schebler put the Reds ahead and sucked the life out of the Dodger Stadium crowd, and after two doubles yielded an insurance run later that inning, I marveled at how quickly a two-run deficit became a two-run lead. It’s rare enough to see the Reds win a game here, I allowed myself to think, but an actual comeback victory?
There were still 12 outs to go, though, and with all due respect to David Hernandez – who pitched well in his 2.1 innings of relief, yielding only one hit – I sweated out each and every one of them. When Wandy Peralta entered the game in the 8th and gave up a walk and a single, I was ready for another heartbreaking collapse.
With Raisel Iglesias unavailable, Jared Hughes was asked to get the Reds out of a game-threatening jam. As pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig – who was 4-for-4 against Hughes in his career, with two home runs – came to the plate, what was left of the Dodger Stadium crowd cheered rabidly, clearly sensing blood in the water. With one pitch, though, the threat vanished as Puig smoked a ball straight into the glove of Eugenio Suarez, who threw to second to double-up the Dodgers’ lead baserunner. Bullet dodged. Hughes then retired the side in the 9th, putting the Reds in position to do the unthinkable – sweep a four-game series at Dodger Stadium.
Sunday’s finale didn’t begin in an encouraging way, as the Reds left the bases loaded in the 1st and then stranded Billy Hamilton at third in the 2nd. They broke through in the 3rd, though, as Suarez launched a two-run homer to left. The Reds were up 3-1 when Joey Votto came to the plate in the 6th, and when he hit a two-run bomb of his own, my cheers caused many of my blue-clad neighbors to give me the stink-eye.
Again, though, there were still 12 outs to go. The bottom half of the 6th passed uneventfully, but after Luis Castillo – who was closing in on the 100-pitch mark – gave up a home run to lead off the bottom of the 7th, I expected Jim Riggleman to give him the hook. I cursed under my breath as he proceeded to let Castillo pitch to Bellinger, who subsequently singled. Suddenly, the lead was in danger. Surely, Riggleman would bring in Amir Garrett, Dylan Floro, Hughes or even Iglesias to get out of the jam. (With all due respect to the rebuild, after years of seeing the Reds lose to the Dodgers in every conceivable manner, it’s hard to overstate the degree to which I wanted them to lock down the victory.)
When Riggleman called for Austin Brice instead, I could only shake my head. I’m sure Brice is a lovely individual, and I’ll cheer for him as long as he wears red, but you don’t use a spray bottle to put out a fire. Two batters, one hit, one error and one run later, with a Dodger runner in scoring position and the Reds now clinging to a two-run lead, Riggleman finally reached for an extinguisher. Garrett struck out four of the five batters he faced, and Iglesias closed the door in the ninth. How sweep it is, indeed.
On my way out of the stadium, I high-fived every person wearing red that I passed. Speaking from experience, it’s not easy to root, root, root for the road team, and anyone who’s chosen to remain a long-distance fan instead of blindly pledging allegiance to the nearest team deserved a hat-tip.
For what it’s worth, including spring training, the Reds’ record during games I’ve attended this year is now a respectable 5-4. While I’m tempted to quit while I’m ahead, I’ll likely catch the finale of their series in San Diego early next month. I don’t make the drive every season, but I can’t remember the last time I saw the Reds win at Petco Park, so hopefully their West Coast good fortune will continue a bit longer.
Then again, maybe luck doesn’t have anything to do with it. The team I saw this weekend looked nothing like the inept, bumbling squad with a dumpster-fire bullpen that I saw drop three games at home last month. Granted, a six-game winning streak is a small sample size from which to draw conclusions, but if nothing else, it’s given us a glimpse of what might be within closer reach than what April led us to believe. We’re not out of the woods yet, of course, but perhaps we’re not as lost as we feared.