Owning the Day (18 Game Capsule 3)

In a Mother's Day performance that made Reds fans forget completely about the favorite women in their lives, Joey Votto bopped a double and three dingers, including a walk-off grand slam. That it was awesome and completely worth the sharp female glares is without question. What remains unanswered is whether or not Votto's game was the greatest in team history. To that end, I've dug up a few handfuls of other exemplary Redleg feats. Some by household names, others by those long forgotten. This being an election year, you'll have the chance to vote on your pick for greatest single game ever. Just one word of caution: if you reflexively pick Votto because you just saw the game on TV, you're really no better than those people who selected Cal Ripken over Honus Wagner to the All Century team. Is that what you want? Your mom raised you better than that, even if you disrespected her on her own day. You're still better than a Cardinals fan, though.

Presented in chronological order...

Deadballiest: Slick fielding, weak hitting Hughie Critz had been the Reds' starting second baseman since Critz's rookie season in 1924. And while his hitting had been serviceable through his first five years, in 1929 Critz was en route to a paltry 58 OPS+. So perhaps it was of surprise to everyone when, on June 5th of that year, Critz sparked a Cincinnati blowout of the Philadelphia Phillies, 21 - 4. Teams don't typically score three touchdowns without several batters contributing, and so it was with this game, with all eight non-pitching starters each managed at least two hits.

It was Critz, however, who led the way with four hits. Although we don't have play-by-play data from this game, we do know that Critz was a top-notch run generator. His final line score was four hits in five at-bats, including a triple. He scored three runs and drove in six. For good and extra measure he made two putouts, five assists, turned a double play, and suffered no errors. The impressive or unusual thing about Critz's performance is that all nine of his runs generated (scored and driven) were done so without the benefit of a single home run. This was the most productive non-homer game in Reds history and accounted for over 10% of Critz's RBI for the year. Incidentally, the 25 run game saw 2:13 elapse from the day's clock.

Doubledippiest: Truth be told, I don't know if this is a team record, but if it is it will never be broken: In 1931, the Reds played ten consecutive games that were either the front or back end of a doubleheader. Second sacker Tony Cuccinello played every inning of all ten, but it was one particular pair of games on August 13 (games three and four of the ten game stretch) which stood out as special.

Game 1 was a blowout, with the Reds destroying the Boston Braves, 17 - 3. "Cooch", the team's #5 hitter, had six hits in as many at-bats, ripping two doubles and a triple, scored four runs and drove in five. Pretty good day, but it was only half over. In game 2, Cuccinello struggled early on, sitting on an oh-fer-three game come the 8th inning. With his team down 2 - 1 and two runners on base, the hero of the day popped a three run dinger, just his second of the year to that point, to effectively win the game, 4 - 2.

Non-controversialiest: We all know the story of 1919. The Black Sox's Eight Men Out threw the Series, otherwise considered a fait accompli for the South Siders. Nevermind that a 9-game series between two strong teams might just as easily tip in the favor of one or the other. I remember how scandalous it felt as a kid when I discovered that the Reds actually had the better winning percentage that year. Somehow that fact escaped the movie.

Fast forward 21 years and the Reds had a chance to win their first World's Championship that was completely on the up and up. Handed the Game 7 ball for his third start of the Series, Paul Derringer took the challenge but clearly didn't have his best stuff. Most innings the Tigers had at least something brewing as Derringer scattered seven hits and three walks over nine full innings, while striking out just one. When it mattered, however, Derringer made his pitches, allowing just one run and that coming on Billy Werber's throwing error in the 3rd. The bottom line is that Derringer continued to hold on and when the Reds scored their two runs in the 7th, that was enough for the tight win.

For those who enjoy attendance figures, the Reds drew 26,854 to Crosley Field for the season's ultimate game.

Unheraldediest: Clearly, if I'm including Johnny Vandeer Meer on this list it's one of the double no-hit games, right? Ah, not so fast. On September 11, 1946, Vandeer Meer engaged in one of those epic battles from days past that just doesn't seem real. To get the punch line out of the way, the game between the Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers was one in which the air was taken out of the ball, with the umpires calling the game after nineteen scoreless innings had been played.

Of those 19 donut frames, JVM tossed fifteen of ‘em. The box score shows 15 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, and 14 K. We don't have play-by-play, so it's not entirely clear if the Dodgers' lone double came from a Vandeer Meer pitch or not, but at worst he allowed just one extra base hit.

Nine days later the teams made up the lost game and Vandeer Meer again got the start. He allowed four runs in five innings and took the loss.

Concentratediest: It's difficult to label catcher Walker Cooper as a journeyman, despite changing teams seven times, because he was pretty damn good. Catchers who post a 116 OPS+ over 18 seasons don't come along every day, except that in Cooper's case, they kind of did, seeing as how often he was "coming along" somewhere new. With respect to Cincinnati, Cooper passed through quickly: part of 1949 and part of 1950, then on to the next locale. He played 97 games in all with the Reds and drove in 66 runs. Ten of those 66 came in one game, played on July 6, 1949 against the Chicago Cubs.

Cooper started relatively slowly, hitting a measly single with a runner on first in the 1st inning. Next inning, with two men on, he singled again, driving in the one run, plus plating the other on the rightfielder's error. Then Cooper got hot. His successive at-bats: 3-run homer, single, 3-run homer, 3-run homer. Six hits, ten RBI, five runs scored. Curiously enough, Cooper came to the plate one more time, in the bottom of the 8th, again with two runners on base. One more long ball would have secured his name in the record books, but instead he grounded out to short to end the Reds' final threat of the day, and the game ended shortly thereafter, 23 - 4. Cooper's 10 RBI remain a franchise record.

Relieviest: On May 27, 1952, Reds' starting pitcher Bubba Church (!) found himself in an inextricable 7th inning jam. Three of the Pirates' first four hitters reached based against Church and in so doing took a 4 - 3 lead in the game. In came swingman/reliever/closer (more on this in a bit) Frank Smith to pick up the pieces. Which he did: a popup and a strikeout to get out of the inning. The Reds tied the score in the 8th, so Smith kept going, striking out the side in the bottom of the frame. Then he kept going and going some more: tight-walking through the 9th, then zipping through innings 10 through 13. In the top of the 14th, Cincy first baseman Eddie Pellagrini mercifully cleared the centerfield fence with a long blast, and Smith ended the game as dominantly as he entered: strikeout, popup to the catcher, strikeout.

Smith's totals in relief would have earned him a quality start had they come earlier in the game: 7.2 IP, 3 hits, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts, 0 runs. That he stranded two initial runners as well made it all the more impressive. Obviously, Smith ended the game as the pitcher of record, winning his first of the season. It's not unheard of for relief pitchers to earn the win or loss, of course, but check this out: the appearance before this highlighted game, Smith earned the retroactive save (retroactive due to the statistic not officially existing in 1952). Then the marathon game against the Bucs. Before Smith recorded his next save he: started two games, one of which was a complete game; twice lasted six innings in relief appearances; and made two "normal-ish" relief appearances. In fact, his official record for the year included 12 wins, 11 losses, and seven saves over 122+ innings. Quite a different world from today, to be sure. At any rate, I'm labeling this the greatest relief appearance in Reds history.

Unlikeliest: Let's pretend it was a given that a certain game was going to be a low-scoring pitching duel, and that the winning pitcher was going to throw a complete game shutout, and on top of that, the game would be an extra inning affair. Now let's pretend your assignment was to insert the most unlikely candidate to pitch that game. You could do a lot worse that to select Harry Perkowski on July 19, 1954.

Here's the sitch: Perkowski started the '54 season in the rotation but was removed after seven starts due to ineffectiveness. He was then mostly used as a mop-up reliever (from June 5 through July 11 Perkowski appeared in ten games, all of which were Reds losses), although there were a couple spot starts thrown in. In fact, on July 16 Perkowski threw the first five innings of the opening match of a double-header. In giving up two earned runs over five innings, Perkowski actually lowered his ERA to 7.58. Just a few days later, Perkowski was handed the ball and delivered the performance of a lifetime, landing on the short list of greatest pitching outings in team history.

Against a tough lineup of New York Giants, including Mays and Dark and Irvin, Perkowski shut them out over 12 innings, allowing just three hits. Perhaps he was "effectively wild", since he also scattered 5 walks to pair with his 6 punch-outs. At any rate, the unlikely ace pitched and pitched until Hobie Landrith popped a walk-off to end the 12th. There were better pitched games in Reds history, but I don't know of any such wins that were this tight, this long, and this unlikely.

Whiffiest: No pitcher has struck out more batters while wearing a Reds uniform than Jim Maloney, and his outing on June 14, 1965 against the Mets demonstrated a taste of why. Maloney retired the first three batters of the game (one on a strikeout), then walked the first batter of the second inning. He then went on to retire the next 27 batters in order, such that at the end of ten innings, Maloney was not only sitting on a no-hit shutout, he had also fanned 17 batters.

Unfortunately, the generally capable Reds lineup was unable to plate a run themselves, and the game drug on into the 11th inning. It was here that Maloney fell apart, relatively speaking. A home run to Johnny Lewis, a strikeout, single, and double play to end the frame, and thus Jim Maloney suffered the 1 - 0 loss, despite the near no-hitter and the 18 strikeouts. As heartbreaking as this defeat must have been, Maloney took a small bit of revenge a couple months later, when he no-hit the Cubs over ten innings, winning the game 1 - 0 and somehow surviving his ten walks allowed.

Clutchiest: On August 12, 1966, the Pirates were visiting the Reds and 2nd year backup outfielder Art Shamsky sat on the bench. He sat seven innings and watched a slugfest, with the Pirates leading 7 - 6 through seven. With one out in the top of the 8th, manager Dave Bristol inserted Shamsky into the left field position as part of a double switch. From here, let's follow Shamsky's play through the eyes of win expectancy.

In the bottom of the 8th, Shamsky was due up 3rd, and he came to bat with a runner on first. He homered to deep center field to put the Reds up 8 - 7, increasing the Reds' likelihood of winning the game from 31% to 85%.

The Reds couldn't hold the lead, and the game went to extra innings, with Shamsky next appearing with one out in the bottom of the 10th, with the bases empty and the Reds down a run. This time Shamsky homered to right to tie the game, and the Reds went from having an 11% win expectancy to 58%.

The leaky bullpen allowed two more runs in the top of the 11th, and Shamsky strolled to the plate with two outs in the bottom and a runner on first. Again a home run to right to tie the game, taking the Reds from doom (5% likelihood of winning) to even money (54% chance).

Alas, the fairy tale had a bitter ending. Three more runs for the bad guys in the 13th put the Pirates up 14 - 11, and Art Shamsky never got another chance to be the hero, with Leo Cardenas grounding into a game-ending double play with Shamsky in the hole.

His final stats: 3 at-bats, 3 home runs, 5 RBI, 3 times pulling his team out of the hole. If only he had started...

Toolsiest: In 1973, Joe Morgan wasn't yet the best player on the planet, but he was pretty daggone good, and on April 15 of that year, he did something that hadn't been done by a Redleg (nor has been done since). Playing in the 2nd game of a doubleheader in San Francisco's Candlestick Park, Morgan had himself a very nice game: 3-for-4 with a walk, 3 runs, 2 RBI. The Reds left victorious, 7 - 3.

As you might imagine, however, there was a bit more to the story. Two of those hits were long balls and Morgan managed to steal second base after both his other hit, a single, and the walk. No one else in team history has had multiple homers and multiple swipes in a single game. To make sure we didn't forget about Morgan's other key tool, he also kick-started a double play.

As an aside, Morgan had two hits and three steals in the opening game of the twinbill, and he ended the day with an OPS 275 points higher than when the sun rose.

Angstiest: Ah, Morgan appears again. 35 years after winning the 1940 World Series, the Reds and the Red Sox were locked in an epic battle. Morgan, frankly, didn't have that great of a series. Still, with the series tied at 3 games apiece, and with the score tied at 3 runs apiece, Morgan was hitting with runners on the corners and two outs in the top of the 9th. A very close facsimile to every child's recurring daydream.

Even down to his final strike, Morgan looped a single to center off of Jim Burton, scoring Ken Griffey and effectively winning the series. The season's MVP produced the championship pendulum's final turn.

Additionally, Morgan's hit extended Boston's championship drought, nearly pushing 60 seasons at that point. As the futile streak grew, and the echoes of a long-past curse grew louder, Boston fandom eventually yielded a sort of faux literary street cred and we the non-Bostonians were subjected to Doris Kearns Goodwin interviews and a horrible remake of Fever Pitch. Due to these horrible events, JOE MORGAN'S SECOND ENTRY HAS BEEN DISQUALIFIED.

Perfectiest: Through 5 and a half innings, neither team had garnered a hit. The Riverfront crowd, no doubt already frothing by the hated Dodgers (and the first-place Dodgers at that) being in town, must have been buzzing. When a couple hits and an error led to the Reds scoring a run in the bottom of the 6th, finally all attention could be directed to Tom Browning.

He didn't disappoint. In the only perfect game in franchise history, Browning not only retired all 27 hitters, he did so on just 100 pitches, never once reaching a 3-ball count on any of the Dodgers hitters. Sometimes with no-hitters, it's a good idea to look at the quality of the lineup, especially with a mid-September game such as this (9/16/88). This was the Dodgers' A-lineup, however, which, although relatively paltry, would be good enough to win a championship by year's end.

Browning came away the 1 - 0 winner and the icon of the day; a shining moment in an otherwise disappointing season. His final line for the game: 9 IP, 0 hits, 0 walks, 7 strikeouts.

Efficientiest: ‘Twas a tough year, 1989. The shadow of Pete Rose's gambling allegations had hung over the team since Spring Training, and the team would fall into a tailspin in the dog days and beyond. In early June, however, Pete was still at the helm and the ship was still aright. It's possible, then, that the season's brightest moment came on June 2nd, when Eric Davis became the third player in franchise history to hit for the cycle. There are two footnotes to this spectacle that set Davis's night apart. First, he accomplished the feat in just four at-bats, and two, he drove in at least one run with each hit.

In order:

  • Inning 1, Davis doubled to left to drive in Barry Larkin
  • Inning 3, Davis singled up the middle to drive Larkin home
  • Inning 4, Davis jacked a ball to left to plate Larkin and Chris Sabo
  • Inning 7, Davis completed the feat by tripling, scoring Larkin (again!) in the process

4-for-4, with 6 RBI and a single run scored, as the Reds defeated the Padres, 9 - 4. Curious, to me at least, was that in the four at-bats, Davis saw just ten pitches, only one of which was outside the strike zone. He was locked in, but the opposing pitchers saw little reason to pitch around Davis, apparently.

Cloggiest: Maybe it's just me, but I have to sometimes remind myself that Sean Casey was a very good hitter at one point. The latter-day fog of bad teams, worse haircuts, and countless groundouts to second cloud my memory to the point of opacity. Still, the numbers say he was quite valuable for a stretch, and he owns the history of one eventful game, in particular.

May 19, 1999 was one of those Coors Field kind of games that don't seem to happen anymore. The two starting pitchers recorded a combined 13 outs, and 11 of the 18 half-innings saw at least one run cross the plate. After it was all over, the Reds had beaten the Rockies, 24 - 12, outhitting their opponents 28 to 15.

Embedded in that offensive onslaught was first baseman Sean Casey, who came to the plate seven times and reached base every single time. Casey actually kicked off the run parade by hitting a three-run homer in the 1st. Then a walk in the 2nd, a single in the 4th, a walk in the 5th, another 3-run jack in the 6th, a walk in the 7th, and a single in the 8th. The final line: 4-for-4, 3 walks, 5 runs, 6 RBI, and a Cincinnati record for most times reaching base in one game.

Leveragiest: This entry may seem like an anomaly compared to the rest, but it represents the greatest example of a closer or late-inning reliever squeezing out of a high-leverage jam that I could find. On April 14, 2001 (Happy 60th, Pete!), the Reds were visiting the Mets at Shea Stadium. Starting pitchers Chris Reitsma and Al Leiter took advantage of the chilly early-season weather, and the score stood at 1 - 0 in favor of the Reds through seven and a half. In the bottom of the 8th, Reitsma began to run into trouble. After striking out the first batter, he allowed a single, a walk, and another single to leave the bases loaded with just one out, and leading slugger Mike Piazza due to hit next.

Enter Danny Graves. Not particularly known for striking batters out, Graves was an unusual closer, often feeling like an accidental late-inning guy. Still, for several years he was very effective, and manager Bob Boone no doubt figured Graves was his best shot at a magical escape. Indeed: Graves induced a double play from Piazza, then came back in the 9th to lock it down, with a flyout, pop-up, and a strikeout. In all, Graves recorded 5 unblemished outs, throwing just 9 pitches, and securing the save despite the team having just a 44% win expectancy when he commenced.

Vottomatickiest: Double, 3 bombs, 6 ribs. Walk-off granny. Happy Mom's day.

Acknowledgements: Baseball-reference's Play Index is tight.

*****************

2012 Reds, Capsule 3 (all stats through Tuesday's games)

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 11 - 7

Strength of Schedule: .504 (6th most difficult in NL; 12th most difficult in ML) [Prev: .514, 5th most difficult in NL; 7th most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .517 (5h best in NL; 10th best in ML)

[Prev: .517, 5th best in NL; 9th best in ML]

Cool Standings postseason odds: 61.3% [Prev: 40.3%]

Cool Standings division odds: 44.1% [Prev: 15.0%]

Offense:

  • .250/.321/.445 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compares to NL average of .257/.320/.413
  • The regulars, as defined by most plate appearances with a slight modification to allow for a catcher: Hanigan, Votto, Phillips, Cozart, Frazier, Heisey, Stubbs, Bruce
  • All regulars hit for a league-average OPS or better, save for one: Jay Bruce hit .158/.269/.316. He still managed the 5th most RBI for the period, however.
  • Mirroring the one-bad-hitter environment, Joey Votto was the only position player with an OPS above 900 for the stretch: .426/.507/.705. This means that over the last 6 weeks combined, Votto has been OPSing over 1200. Nothing he does surprises me.
  • Bench coolers: Wilson Valdez, 2-for-11; Devin Mesoraco, 3-for-21; Mike Costanzo, 1-for-15; Miguel Cairo, 1-for-21. Meso's three hits all went for extra bases, and he also chipped in for 5 walks. The other three had 0 combined XBH, and 1 walk among them.
  • The key to this offense, as it's currently constructed, appears to be Brandon Phillips. Beep led the team in RBI (largely a function of Votto being on base more than half the time, no doubt), but also put together his first decent hitting stretch of the year, at .284/.347/.478. Not a prototypical cleanup hitter, still, but Phillips's hot (or warm) streaks tend to line up well with the team's better run-scoring stretches.
  • If there's a prototypical Reds offense stretch, this was it, at least in my mind. Walk rates, strikeout rates, and all that other crap was pretty similar to league average. What made this an above average group of hitters for the period was hitting the long ball: 27 for the Reds, an average of 17 for all other NL teams.
  • Todd Frazier now has exactly the same number of plate appearances on the year as Scott Rolen, and has exactly twice as many total bases.

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 3.90, against league average of 4.22.
  • Need to give credit where it's due, which means Mike Leake (!) gets top billing: 5 runs allowed over 3 starts (2.42 ERA), 17 K, 5 BB, 1 HR.
  • Perhaps the other big news for the period was that Aroldis Chapman gave up a run (unearned). He also allowed one lone hit in the 8.2 innings (.034 batting average against).
  • 4 different pitchers recorded saves, and the neither the world nor the team collapsed.
  • Is Mat Latos on the brink of breakthrough or disaster? 22.2 IP, 23 K, 5 BB (good); 7 HR allowed (so very, very bad).
  • Total bullpen ERA was 2.63, despite Logan Ondrusek.
  • Total starter ERA was 4.46, despite Mike Leake.
  • Team DER improved from .688 to .692, bumping from 12th in the NL to 7th, even without an ounce of Rolen.

The next 18:

  • 12 games at home, 6 on the road
  • 3 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 4 of the 18 against 2011 playoff teams
  • 12 of the 18 against American League teams
  • .493 average winning percentage (2012) for the teams in the next 18 games.
  • The team's various holes have been well-discussed, and some discussion has surfaced around the unlikelihood of picking up a significant solution. What, however, is the excuse for how bad this bench is? Harris has been jettisoned, but here are the YTD OPS stats for the three worst offenders: Valdez, 413; Cairo, 364; Costanzo, 151. The latter two don't even have the benefit of plus defense. The team hasn't even been hit by injuries outside of Scotty R., so again...what's the excuse? These should be the truly replaceable, so let's replace ‘em. Quickly. (author's note: they listened to me, even before I published the damn piece. Keep going, Walt!)
  • We're done with interleague play after this stretch until late October.
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