Winker’s timing couldn’t have been better and his hit pushed the Reds’ extra-inning record to 5-2.
The only reason the game reached 0-0 into the 10th was a mammoth and magnificent pitching standoff between Cincinnati’s Sonny Gray and Chicago’s Dallas Keuchel.
Both pitched seven shutout innings and both held the other team to two hits.
“I just wanted to show up and win a baseball game today,” said Gray. “I didn’t care how it was going to be, I just wanted to show up and do what I could do to win this game. That where I was. The only place I was.”
This one was an even better follow-up to his previous start when he held the Los Angeles Dodgers to two runs and four hits while striking out 11 in 5 2/3 innings. This time he struck out eight during his 90-pitch effort.
Gray v. Keuchel is nothing new and Gray knew the degree of difficulty it would be.
“I knew it, man, I knew it,” he said. “It brings up a lot of old memories. When I was in Oakland and he was in Houston we had a ton of matchups. I just know Keuchel enough, we’ve been around each other so much as opposing guys.
“I knew from talking to him briefly yesterday where he was at,” Gray added. “I knew he was going to come in ready to roll. We’ve just done it too much, too many times.”
Gray’s only shaky moments came in the second inning. With one out, he hit Andrew Vaughn in the batting helmet. He then walked Yasmani Grandal on four pitches and went to 2-and-0 on Leury Garcia.
Catcher Tyler Stephenson rushed to the mound for a pick-him-up chat. Gray then struck out Garcia and Billy Hamilton.
“I was a little rattled, honestly,” said Gray. “I hit a guy in the head, a complete accident. To sit here and say I was completely OK after that, I don’t think I was. There were some thoughts running through my head and I had to get them removed as soon as I could. I wasn’t able to do it. It took a couple of hitters, a few pitches to removed that.”
The removal was almost surgical.
He gave up a one-out single to Tim Anderson in the third and a one-out single in the sixth to Nick Madrigal. He retired 12 of the last 14 Sox he faced.
Tejay Antone followed Gray with two scoreless innings and Lucas Sims pitched an eventful 10th.
With opposing pitcher Hendricks the ghost runner on second. Sims walked Grandal. Garcia forced Grandal at second, putting runners on third and first with one out.
Garcia tried to steal second and Tucker Barnhart threw him out, then Sims struck out Hamilton.
Barnhart was the Reds’ ghost runner at second and he moved to third on Senzel’s shallow single to left. And it was Winker Time.
Some wondered why Chicago manager Tony La Russa didn’t walk Winker intentionally to fill the bases and set up a force play at home.
“I wasn’t thinking about that at all,” Winker said. “It’s my job to be ready to hit. I’ll be honest, you don’t have time to think about that. I was just ready to hit.”
Asked if he cherishes that type of challenge, Winker responded quickly.
“Definitely, I want to be up there in that moment. You just want to stay calm in those situations,” he said. “It was first-and-third and the infield is kinda in and the outfield is kinda in. You just want to put the barrel on the ball, that’s all you can do.”
Manager David Bell was, of course, extremely upbeat, despite the devastating news that Joey Votto fractured his left thumb when he was hit by a pitch and will miss probably three to four weeks.
“It is nothing that requires surgery, it is your basic break,” said Bell. “It is going to be weeks for sure, maybe three or four.”
And of the game, he said, “What a great game. . .both sides. You knew it was going to come down to one big at bat, one big run. Gray knew he was up against another pitcher that was locked in, knew it would take his best effort, and he gave it to us.”
The way Winker is hitting, he certainly would be The Manager’s Choice to hit in the game-winning situation.
“Definitely, the way he is hitting and his level of confidence,” said Bell. “I know all of our hitters would want to be up there. And Wink wants to be up there and that’s a big part of him coming through in those situations.”
Reds at Indians, 7:10 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 700, 1410