Sometimes much-needed help arrives from a completely unexpected place.
Enter The Punisher, Aristides Aquino, who had punished nobody but himself in recent times while in the batter’s box.
Aquino was 1 for 28 when he came to bat in the third inning Saturday night against the Detroit Tigers in Great American Ball Park. And that one hit was a broken bat infield dribbler.
But with the Reds down a run and two men on base in the third, Aquino became The Punisher again, lining a three-run home run into the left field seats.
It gave the Reds a two-run lead en route to a 7-4 victory.
And they received add-on help from another unexpected event. Tyler Naquin was 1 for 13 as a pinch-hitter this season. But with the Reds leading by a run in the seventh, he pinch-hit for The Punisher and he, too, punished the Tigers with a two-run triple into the right-field corner to push his team’s lead to three runs.
It was a profitable victory for the Reds and their chase for the second wild card spot. Philadelphia lost to fall three games behind, and St. Louis lost to fall 3 1/2 behind. The San Diego Padres, though, crushed Houston and remains a half-game behind the Reds.
So how did Aquino keep his sensibilities after making out after out after out in recent at bats.
“For me, it was coming to the field every day and doing my work,” he said. “Never lose confidence in what you have and give it all your best each and every day.
“And it felt really good to give the team a chance to win right there,” he added. “I was looking for a good pitch, and that just hung right there and I hit it well.”
Manager David Bell said there is more than one reason for keeping Aquino in the lineup during his offensive inefficiency.
“Especially when we are facing these left handers he is in there,” said Bell. “It is because of what he can do, which we saw tonight. The other thing is that he is a solid defender. There have been games where he doesn’t hit home runs or get big hits, but he plays a solid outfield which helps keep him in there. But mainly he has the ability to do exactly what he did tonight.”
Reds starter Tyler Mahle struggled for his five innings, giving up four runs, six hits and five walks while striking out eight.
The big blast was a three-run home run by rookie Eric Haase with two outs in the third inning, giving the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
The Reds rescued him with a five-run bottom of the third against Tigers left; hander Matthew Boyd.
Tyler Stephenson singled with one out and Nick Castellanos doubled. Joey Votto lobbed a shattered bat single to right to put the Reds on the scoreboard and Eugenio Suarez plated the second run with a sacrifice fly.
Kyle Farmer singled and Aquino unloaded his decisive home run.
A frustrated Mahle loaded the bases in the fifth and walked in a run, cutting the lead to 5-4. With two outs, Derek Hill shot one toward right field. Second baseman Jonathan India slid on his knees to capture the ball and threw from his knees to end the inning, saving two runs.
“That was huge, an unbelievable play in a humongous spot,” said Mahle. “That probably would have scored two runs if its gets by him.”
It also saved Mahle. If the ball goes through, Mahle would have been removed and wouldn’t qualify for the win. But despite his struggles, he was credited with his 11th win.
“I was really frustrated,” he said. “A lot of walks. I walked in a run. Just some frustrating at bats for me. Every game is huge for us and that’s why I was so frustrated with my performance. I didn’t do great in a game we needed to win. Such a big game and I just didn’t step up to the plate.”
But the offense, the defense and bullpen picked him up.
After Mahle left, the Reds bullpen sealed the deal, with Lucas Sims, Michael Lorenzen and Mychal Givens nailed it down.
Sims pitched a perfect sixth, Lorenzen gave up one hit in the seventh and eighth and Givens gave up a hit in the ninth before finishing.
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