What was once the Iron Curtain for the Cincinnati Reds, the bullpen, suddenly has become paper mache.
The Reds beat the Chicago Cubs the first three games of a four-game series, mostly because they didn’t have to filter through the bullpen, which lately has become weak-kneed — that and the fact they were playing the Cubs.
In the first three wins, Homer Bailey gave them eight innings, Tony Cingrani gave them seven innings and Mike Leake gave them eight innings. The only bullpen help they needed mostly came from closer Aroldis Chapman.
But on Thursday, in Game Four of the series in Wrigley Field, Mat Latos needed 31 pitches to traverse the first inning and his pitch count bobbed above 100 by the end of the sixth inning.
And even though he wasn’t vintage Latos (four runs, eight hits), he still turned over a 5-4 lead to the bullpen.
Eight innings later, in the 14th inning, the Reds were 6-5 losers, the first time they lost in Wrigley after 12 straight wins.
And for the fifth time this season, the bullpen blew a lead that Latos gave them. So Latos stays at 6-0 when he could be 11-0.
There was mystery and hidden drama in the way it all unfolded.
When the eighth inning arrived, the Reds still led, 5-4, and it was Jonathan Broxton time. But Broxton remained firmly seated on his posterior on a bullpen chair.
Instead Sam LeCure pitched the eighth, a guy who was untouchable the first two months of the season. But he had fallen upon difficult times in the last week and on Thursday gave up a run, three hits and a walk. The walk to Nate Schierholtz became the tying run.
Meanwhile, after scoring five runs on 10 hits in six innings against Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija, the Reds’ bats turn to raw spaghetti.
Over the last 8 2/3 innings they had three hits. No runs and three hits.
Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker opened his utensils drawer in the 10th inning and there were no spoons, no forks and just a couple of knives left.
He had rookie Curtis Partch, Broxton and Aroldis Chapman. The only other people in the bullpen were bullpen catcher Mike and bullpen coach Porky Lopez.
As Baker revealed after the game, Broxton, who hadn’t pitched since last Sunday, was a “no” on the depth chart. His arm hurt. And Baker was saving Chapman for, if and when, the Reds took the lead. Neither if or when surfaced.
So Partch was the choice and pitching in the dense shadows of Wrigley’s grandstands, he held the Cubs to one hit over four innings.
By the 14th, Baker had to go to Broxton — or outfielders Jay Bruce or Shin-Soo Choo, of whom Baker asked, “Could you pitch if I needed you?”
Broxton volunteered for an inning but it was evident he wasn’t himself. His velocity was down four to five miles an hour.
But stubbornness was his enemy, too.
Starlin Castro led the 14th and had a 3-2 count. Catcher Devin Mesoraco signaled, but Broxton shook him. He wanted to throw a fastball and Castro banged it up the middle for a single.
Anthony Rizzo struck out and after Castro stole second. Then Alfonso Soriano grounded to first, moving Castro to third.
The Reds chose to walk dangerous Nate Schierholz intentionally so they could face rookie Julio Borbon.
Once again Broxton shook off a pitch called for by Mesoraco and the pitch he threw to Borbon was ripped past third base into left field for a sudden death defeat.
To make the day a complete fiasco, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Mets, 2-1, and the Reds fell to 3 ½ games behind.