They introduced the players, they played a goose bumps tribute to Joe Morgan on the mammoth scoreboard, a young lady performed a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem and two F-16 Flying Falcons thundered above Great American Ball Park.
They should have quit while they were ahead.
In the blink of a pitcher’s eye, the St. Louis Cardinals scored six runs in the top of the first.
And that was the disastrous opening curtain for the 2021 Cincinnati Reds.
Before anybody wearing a home white uniform swung a bat in 2021, the Reds were down, 6-0. And it led to an 11-6 Cardinals victory.
The anatomy of a first-inning catastrophe:
Eugenio Suarez, making his Cincinnati debut at shortstop, booted the first ball hit to him, a two-run error, and added a throwing error in the second inning that led to another run.
Before spring training began, Suarez said his goal was 50 home runs. Only 49 to go. He hit one leading off the fourth inning — but that only gave him a minus two, three runs given away and one taken back.
After getting the first out, starter Luis Castillo gave up three straight hits, including a run-scoring single the opposite way against the shift by Paul DeJong.
He hit a batter and Suarez committed his two-run error. Rookie Dylan Carlson swung at the first pitch he saw in 2021 and launched a three-run home run off the right field foul pole.
The Reds spent the rest of the record-low (for Cincinnati Opening Day) 37-degree day keeping their fingers unfrozen and trying to scramble back.
“We were one swing of the bat several times at getting back in the game,” said manager David Bell.
One of those was in the sixth inning when the Reds were down, 11-6. They had two on with one out. Nick Castellanos hit one hard to left. Tyler Stephenson, aboard second, misread the ball and bolted for third. When the ball was caught, he was easily doubled off second base to end the inning and wipe clean the threat.
Those are mistakes that keep a team at the bottom of the pile.
Castillo gave up nothing all spring, but waddled and wobbled through only 3 1/3 innings and gave up 10 runs on eight hits. Uncharacteristically, Castillo did not record a strikeout.
Yet, he insisted he threw good pitches and said, “I give their hitters all the merit because they hit good quality pitches. Give them the merit.”
In addition to the refrigerator temperature, Castillo threw some pitches as snowflakes swirled around the mound and he slapped his face for circulation.
“Super, super, super cold,” he said. “It’s pretty difficult to throw in the cold. Coming from the Dominican Republic and pitching in Arizona, it’s really cold. And I’ve never pitched in a snowfall.”
Center fielder Nick Senzel left the game in the fourth after injuring his shoulder on a diving catch. Senzel has missed several games due to injury the last two seasons.
On the plus side, Castellanos was on a rampage, collecting three hits, including a two-run home run.
The eye-catcher, though, was rookie Jonathan India, making his major league debut at second base.
Perhaps paying tribute and homage to Joe Morgan, the scraggly-haired India performed Morgan-like. With his mother in tears in the crowd, he not only punched his first major league hit, he finished with a single and a double. And he made several flawless defensive plays, a couple of them ripped from the pages of Brandon Phillips’ playbook.
The first batter of the game, Tommy Edman, grounded to India. In the dugout, Bell said, “There it is, the ball always finds you.”
Said India of the game-opening play, “I knew it was coming. I felt it. I mean, look who’s up, a lefty hander (Edman). Fortunately, it was a nice easy one that came right to me. It was good to get it out of the way.”
“When they announced my name and I heard the fans, I thought, ‘This is it.’ I really took it all in. I didn’t black out. I looked around. It was a great feeling,” he said. “Before the game I was waiting for the nerves to kick in, but I was never nervous. The guys helped me through the day, told me to really take it in. . .and don’t forget to breathe.
“It was a beautiful thing, something I’ll never forget, something I’ll cherish and carry throughout my career and never forget.”
But like the rest of the Reds, he’ll quickly forget the score.
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