Waste not, want not

Like Trevor Bauer in Game One, Luis Castillo’s Game Two effort was wasted by the Reds’ absentee bats and futile running.

Joey Votto said going in that his Cincinnati Reds in the postseason, however rough and tumble things had to be to get them there, would be a “[fornicating] nightmare.” He just didn’t bargain on every man in a Red uniform at the plate or on the bases being their own worst nightmares.

If the Reds wish to remain postseason competitive, waste management means waste avoidance. Because if you don’t avoid waste, no matter how efficient your pitching might be, you’ll get wasted the way the Atlanta Braves wasted the Reds late but imperatively Thursday afternoon.

The Reds’ irregular season’s grind just to claim one of this year’s ten wild cards got wasted, too, even worse than Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall wasted relief pitcher Raisel Iglesias’s canteloupes.

Nobody wants to take anything away from the National League East-winning Braves. They clung stubbornly in their wild card set, held on to win Thursday, 5-0, and didn’t let the Reds’ stellar starting pitching blow the spirit out of them no matter how long it took. The Reds made it a little too simple for them in the end.

The Reds won’t live this one down too readily. They’re going to have to try explaining how they became the first team in Show history to be shut out for an entire postseason set, 22 innings worth, even if it was a mere best-of-three.

They’re going to have to try explaining how Trevor Bauer in Game One struck out twelve Braves without walking a soul or surrendering a run, without getting credit for a win, but with the Reds losing in the thirteenth inning on the game’s only run—on a measly RBI single by likely National League Most Valuable Player Freddie Freeman.

They’re going to have to explain how Luis Castillo’s first-ever postseason start produced seven strikeouts in five and a third innings, only one run surrendered, only one batter walked, and Iglesias getting blown up in the eighth after Lucas Sims spelled Castillo with an inning and two-thirds of spotless relief.

Ronald Acuna, Jr. doubling home Austin Riley off Castillo with two out in the fifth only made it 1-0. But Iglesias walking Freeman to open the eighth was flirting with death. Death accepted the invitation when Ozuna found a 1-0 meatball so irresistible he yanked it into the empty left center field seats.

Walking Ozzie Alibes after striking Travis d’Arnaud out following that launch wasn’t advisable, either. How inadvisable came too clear when Duvall licked his chops at an even meatier, 0-2 meatball, and sent it out down the left field line.

“Such a professional hitter,” Braves rookie starting pitcher Ian Anderson said of Ozuna after the game, calling Ozuna the life of the club all year long. “Loves the big moment. And I know it was getting to him a little bit, the way his at-bats had unfolded up until that point. Yeah, he couldn’t have been happier, and we couldn’t have been happier for him. That was a huge hit for the team. You could kind of sense that the dugout relaxed then, just a little bit.”

The Braves now wait to see who wins the win-or-be-gone game between the Miami Marlins and the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field, which might have been played Thursday but for the rain saying “not so fast.”

The Reds are also going to have to explain why they couldn’t find more than two hits off Anderson but found their way to nine strikeouts against the rook making his first postseason start following six irregular season assignments and a shimmering 1.95 ERA.

Those thirteen runners the Reds stranded need some explaining, too. So does having nothing to show against three Braves relievers from the seventh through the ninth.

They’re also going to have to explain why a team with baseball’s worst collective batting average (.212) despite a few offensive upgrades last winter couldn’t find ways to avoid becoming baseball’s first to be shut out of an entire postseason series.

How many times did the Reds answer opportunity’s knocking with “Go away, we gave at the office?”

When they greeted Max Fried in Game One with back-to-back singles giving them first and third and nobody out, only to see Votto—Mr. On-Base Machine—ground out to first, Eugenio Suarez line a badminton shuttlecock to Ozzie Albies at second base, and Mike Moustakas ground out?

When manager David Bell thought he could get away with a play that even the Little League won’t try all that often, having Kyle Farmer on first and Aristedes Aquino on third try a double steal the Braves could smell from about five minutes prior to attempt, with Aquino bagged in an even more kiddie-looking rundown?

When Bell sent spaghetti-bat veteran Freddy Galvis out to pinch hit for Shogo Akiyama with two out and two on in the top of the twelfth, despite Akiyama hitting well enough down the stretch to earn the opportunity, and Galvis rewarded Bell for his unexpected faith by looking at strike three right down the middle?

When they spent Game Two with no non Venezuelan-born Red getting a single base hit, and no Red from any geography reaching base between Galvis’s walk in the second and his off-the-pillow base hit up the first base line in the fifth? When no Red from there got so much as a hit by pitch to reach base and seven out of the final thirteen Red batters struck out?

Their number one irregular season issue, their inability to hit in multiples in most innings, swallowed them deeper than the Braves’ own pitching turned out to do.

“You can look at the defensive positioning, you can look at hard-hit balls that didn’t go for hits,” Bell said after the Game Two loss. “But, it’s something we have to take a closer look at because all teams are really good at defensive positioning and can hit into bad luck at times. Why did that happen for us? We just have to really take a close look at it. We did all year. Yeah, I say, we absolutely do believe in our guys, we made adjustments as much as we possibly could. But we have to find a way to get better.”

Right he is. Every Reds position player except for three will be back in 2021, and enough of them will be on the far enough side of thirty years old. They’ll still have most of their solid pitching, though the Braves didn’t get to see Sonny Gray this week, but Bauer could walk into the free agency market this year with as many potential suitors as a debutante.

Another, older Ian Anderson, leading a British band known as Jethro Tull, sang the epitaph for this year’s Reds a little over half a century ago: It was a new day yesterday, but it’s an old day now.

The Braves get the lucky thirteenth

Freddie Freeman finally drives in the only run of the game . . . in the bottom of the thirteenth.

Put Commissioner Nero and his itch to fix what isn’t broken plus his allergy to fixing what might be to one side. The second loveliest word pair in the English language is “extra innings”—right there behind “play ball!” The Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves certainly believed in lovely word pairs Wednesday afternoon.

We just didn’t think they’d take it to a 12.5 inning shutout extreme while they were at it, before the Braves finally won 1-0 in the bottom of the thirteenth.

Neither did we think fourteen pitchers would combine for 37 strikeouts that only began with Braves starter Max Fried’s five in seven innings and Reds starter Trevor Bauer’s 12 in seven-and-two-thirds. That would mean twelve relief pitchers combining for 25 strikeouts.

It also meant history’s first Show postseason game that ever went scoreless for 12.5 innings. Not to mention Bauer become first in Show ever to throw seven-plus shutout innings with no walks and twelve or more strikeouts.

Now, Fried and Bauer were masterful. No question. But then they were also smart enough to exploit a pair of teams whose diets are dominated by long bombs. Teams who also spent six part of their first National League wild card game trying to hit eight-run homers and half a dozen parts running the bases like Dick Van Dyke trying and failing to avoid somersaulting over the ottoman after he’s only three steps through the front door.

Try not to miss the free cookie on second base to start each team’s extra half inning, either. It’s not part of the postseason, but still. Until Freddie Freeman knocked home the winning run in the bottom of the thirteenth, these Reds and these Braves spent the day proving that if they did have the cookies they still would have stranded them.

Except for the top of the tenth and the bottom of the eleventh in Truist Park, neither side could get anyone home even if they’d paid ransom remands. The Reds even stranded the bases loaded in the eleventh and the thirteenth. Atop an afternoon aboard which the Reds went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and the Braves went 1-for-10 likewise.

Freeman’s was the one that counted. With Amir Garrett on the mound for the Reds, and pinch runner Cristian Pache plus Ronald Acuna, Jr. aboard with one out, he lined a slightly hanging slider into right center field far enough for Pache to hit the plate unmolested.

For the Braves first baseman who prayed COVID-19 wouldn’t get him an early transfer to the Elysian Fields before the irregular season opened, it had to be the single most satisfying hit of his career to date.

It was the least Freeman and his mates could do after reliever Shane Greene left successor A.J. Minter with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the thirteenth. Thanks large for lunch, you could imagine Minter thinking as Aristedes Aquino checked in at the plate, I was dying for a jam sandwich, anyway.

Aquino wrestled Minter to 1-2 including four foul-offs before Minter lunged for and missed a changeup that broke so far low and away Aquino would have needed a search party to make serious contact. Then Minter served Jose Garcia just enough to hit a grounder up the middle that forced Mike Moustakas out for the side.

Memo to the Reds and the Braves hitters: When beasts like Fried and Bauer are on the mound, it’s wise men who heed the wise advisory, “Please don’t feed the animals.”

And, memo to everyone banging Reds manager David Bell for not putting Freeman aboard with a base open and only one out—Freeman may be the National League’s Most Valuable Player in waiting, but he’s far less effective against lefthanded pitchers (.250 batting average against portsiders this year) than righthanded. (.341.) And Garrett this year kept the lefthanded swingers to hitting .043 against him.

Lurking behind Freeman? Righthanded Marcell Ozuna, his 1.067 2020  OPS, and his penchant for demolishing lefthanders like condemned buildings and righthanders close enough to that. (.345 batting average against lefthanders this year; .333 against the starboard arms.) You want to pitch to that with the bases loaded, instead of chancing your man luring Freeman into a double play? Cream Puff the Magic Dragon Ozuna ain’t.

So Bell made the only move he could have made and left his lefthander in to face the lefthanded. You give Freeman all the credit on earth for jumping Garrett’s hanging slider. For better or worse there are times when doing the right thing isn’t as right as the other guy doing it.

Better that Reds fan is frustrated by Adam Duvall and Austin Riley collaborating on nailing Nick Castellanos at third in the sixth, when he tried taking the extra base on a single and Duvall thre the kind of strike requiring nothing but the best tag Riley could get down on Castellanos.

Or, by Aquino channeling his inner Little Leaguer with two out in the seventh, getting himself canned in a rundown between third and home. To think he reached base in the first place after a swing and a miss that dropped him on his can before singling to left with one out.

Now the Reds get to play Game Two hoping they can drop Ian Anderson and the Braves on their cans, instead of ending up singing, “It was a new day yesterday/but it’s an old day now.”