McCoy: Reds fall to Cubs despite strong MLB debut by Gutierrez

Chicago edges Cincinnati 1-0 in windy, cold day at Wrigley Field

Mother Nature decided to help out a couple of rookie pitchers Friday afternoon in Wrigley/Wind Tunnel Field.

A hefty wind blowing in off Lake Michigan made it nearly impossible for hitters to hit the ball for any distance.

It was a pitcher’s duel par excellence, matching Cincinnati’s Vladimir Gutierrez, making his major league debut, against Chicago Cubs rookie Adbert Alzolay.

Gutierrez made one mistake, a high, insde slider to David Bote, leading off the fifth inning. Bote drove a hard line drive, below the wind, and it carried over the left field wall.

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And that was it. The game’s only run, a 1-0 Cubs victory.

The Cuban-born Gutierrez, whom the Reds signed for $5 million, was otherwise outstanding — one run, two hits, one walk and three strikeouts.

On the other side, the Reds were afforded opportunity after opportunity in the first three innings against Alzolay but encountered failure after failure.

They stranded six runners in the first three innings, two in each inning. For the game they were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on the basepaths.

Gutierrez displayed uncommon poise and self-control for his major league debut and that’s what most impressed manager David Bell.

“More than anything, his personality and demeanor was impressive,” said Bell. “He competes but he has a nice calmness to him and he is just confident, a quiet confidence. He is talented, has the arm and all that, but his demeanor and who he is is going to allow him to have a lot of success here.”

Gutierrez retired 10 of the first 11 hitters, displaying no jitters.

“In the first inning I was shaking a little bit, especially the first batter,” he said through an interpreter. “Once I got through that inning, I breathed a little better. Once I got back into the dugout I was able to relax a little bit better.”

Bote’s home run in the howling wind was a shock to everybody.

“I fell behind in the count, came with a strike, then that slider was inside and I didn’t realize he would hit it that well,” said Gutierrez. “He hit it on a line and I’m guessing that’s why it went out. If it was a fly ball I don’t think that ball would have gone out.”

His teammates could have given him a huge helping hand with one hit, a hit that never came.

They put runners on third and second with two outs in the first, but Tucker Barnhart popped to shortstop.

They put runners on third and first with one out in the second, but Gutierrez struck out, failing to bunt, and Jesse Winker lined out to center.

They put runners on third and second in third with two outs, but Kyle Farmed flied to right.

At least two Cubs hit balls that would have been home runs that the wind blocked.

And the Reds had a big one in the third.

Tyler Stephenson walked with two outs. Barnhart crushed one down the right field line, a ball that normally would have landed on Sheffield Avenue.

The wind, though, knocked it down. It landed in fair territory and Stephenson easily would have scored. But the ball hopped into the stands for a ground-rule double and Stephenson had to return to third.

“I really hit it, but I was pretty confident it wasn’t going to go out of the ballpark because of the wind,” said Barnhart. “I hit it toward the bullpen in right center and I thought it was going to blow foul. When it didn’t, I was happy … and then the most confusing thing about it was that it got up over the wall somehow (for the ground rule double) and that was really weird.

“That was par for the day the way the conditions were,” he added. “Not only was it not a home run, it wasn’t even an RBI.”

Bell was, of course, disappointed with the outcome but complimentary about his team.

“I’m actually really proud of our team,” said Bell. “We had a lot of opportunities and hit the ball hard when we had runners out there.

“It was just a totally different game here with the wind blowing in,” he added. “It was just totally unbelievable. To the pitchers’ credit, they did what they are supposed to do.

“You attack, throw strikes and it is just a totally different game on both sides,” he said. “The wind was extreme. I spent one full season here and maybe there were a couple of days like that, but that’s about as severe of a wind blowing straight in from right that I’ve seen.”

Then Bell said the definitive sentences: “It affected both sides so we weren’t at a disadvantage by any means. It just changes the whole game.”