McCoy: Naquin’s ninth-inning HR saves bullpen meltdown, ends Reds five-game losing streak

Tyler Naquin saved the day, cleaned up a miserable mess made by the Cincinnati Reds bullpen Tuesday afternoon in Target Field.

Naquin’s fourth hit of the day was a game-saving three-run home run in the top of the ninth. It broke a tie and lifted the Reds to a 10-7 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

It never should have been necessary, but it was because of the train wreck of a bullpen.

The Reds bullpen, the worst in the major leagues, with no questions asked, lived up to its ugly reputation.

It was the ugliest of so many ugly performances this season.

Reds starter Wade Miley turned a five-run lead over to the bullpen in the eighth inning and in a flurry of hard swings the Twins tied it with five runs.

But Nick Castellanos doubled with one out in the ninth, Tyler Stephenson was hit by a pitch and Naquin unloaded.

“It’s hard for me to take full credit for that,” Naquin said. “I mean, Castellanos started it with a hit, Stephenson grinded out an at bat. That opportunity doesn’t come up without those guys on base.

“To be able to put that swing on it that situation was awesome,” he added.

As soon as he connected, Naquin did a couple of celebratory hop steps before his triumphant tour of the bases.

“I did know,” he said. “At this point, when you hit one good, possibly I posed a little, but when you put a good swing on it you can look at it for a second.”

The bullpen culprits that made Naquin’s necessary and possible were Art Warren, Lucas Sims and Tejay Antone.

With a 7-2 lead, Warren began the inning with a four-pitch walk and a home run to Max Kepler. Sims was next and he retired nobody — a first-pitch home run to Trevor Larnach, a single to Ryan Jeffers and a double to Miguel Sano to cut the lead to 7-5.

Antone, making his first appearance off the injured list, was ripped for a two-run, game-tying double off the left field wall by Alex Kiralloff.

Naquin said when the Reds led, 7-2, a Twins fans behind the dugout kept saying, “It ain’t over yet. It ain’t over.”

Said Naquin, “When I was in the outfield and the Twins came back to tie it, I remembered that and thought, ‘Hey, this guy must have know something, known what he was talking about.”

The fan had nothing to say about Naquin’s home run.

To their credit, the offense didn’t let the bullpen meltdown ruin the day.

With one out in the ninth, Castellanos doubled, Stephenson was hit by a pitch and Naquin unloaded his home run the opposite way to left center for the 10-7 lead.

Amir Garrett did what the rest of the bullpen couldn’t do. He retired the first two in the bottom of the ninth, gave up Nelson Cruz’s third hit, a single, then retired Larnah on a ground ball to secure the very shaky, very wobbly victory.

It enabled the Reds to end a five-game losing streak and salvage the last game of a 4-and-5 trip through Milwaukee, San Diego and Minnesota.

When discussion surfaced in spring training about the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation, it was all about Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle.

Wade Miley? Oh, yeah. Him, too.

Miley has been the most reliable and consistent operative this season and once again proved his value.

Miley muzzled the Twins on two runs and five hits over seven innings, leading the Reds to the 7-2 lead that evaporated when the bullpen came in to play.

There is no question Miley is the stabilizing influence in the rotation, though he won’t admit it. Miley has gone seven innings in three straight starts.

“After the five-hour game yesterday (a 5 hour, 14-minute 7-5 loss in 12 innings), I was trying to pick up the tempo, try to get some quick outs.

“I don’t know if I’m a stabilizer, I just go out there and try to compete my tail off,” he said. “Hopefully things go our way and we have some success.”

Said Tucker Barnhart of Miley: “He throws cutters, he throws change-ups, he keeps guys off balance. He pitches to contact, which is something of a rarity right now in the game. We all love Wade. He is one of the most favorite teammates I’ve ever had. And not to mention he is throwing the ball so good.”

While Miley furnished the pitching, Naquin, Barnhart and Jesse Winker furnished the offense.

Barnhart banged three hits and drove in three runs that included a two-run home run and Winker ripped a two-run double off the top of the right field wall.

And with his game-winning homer, Naquin put the finishes touches on a four-hit day and a much-needed Reds victory.

THURSDAY’S GAME

Braves at Reds, 7:10 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 700, 1410