The anvil is off their shoulders, the rope is no longer around their necks, the Curse of the Smokestack is over.
With one swipe of the bat, pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker shot an opposite-field double inside the third-base line in the bottom of the ninth.
Marlon Byrd crossed home plate with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, a 2-1 victory Tuesday night that ended a nine-game losing streak for the Cincinnati Reds.
Curse of the Smoke Stack? Well, blame something. The Reds hadn’t won a game since one of the smoke stacks in center field caught on fire May 15.
Clearly, for once, the baseball gods were with the Reds. The way things were going it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado snag the ball because he is arguably the best defensive third baseman in the game. And the way things were going it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the ball slice foul. But it nestled nicely in the grass just inside the foul line just behind third base.
“When the ball was hit, I wasn’t sure that Arrenado was not going to get to it,” said Byrd, watching from his perch at second base. “Then I wasn’t sure it was going to stay fair. Relief, pure relief to finally get a ‘W.” It has been so long that many of the Reds probably forgot what ‘W’ stands for.
The Reds manufactured the winning run, too. Byrd worked a walk on 3-and-2 to start the ninth and Kristopher Negron plunked down a perfect sacrifice bunt to get Byrd to second, poised to score on Schumaker’s hit.
“Getting it past Arenado is something,” said Byrd. “He is like Scott Rolen and Brooks Robinson. He sucks up everything. Sneaking one by him is tough but Skip did it.”
Schumaker, too, called the hit a fortunate placement, “Because I hit it at the wrong guy, for sure. Of all the guys to hit it to, I felt he was somehow going to catch it. But we needed a win in the worst way. I don’t care how it happened, we just needed to smile around here for once.”
The Reds were only in position to win because they received a sensational start from 23-year-old rookie right hander Michael Lorenzen. He gave up one run and two hits (three walks) over seven innings. His one mistake left the park, a solo home run in the fifth by catcher Nick Hundley. The only other hit off Lorenzen was a leadoff single by Troy Tulowitzki in the second and he was erased on a double play.
That a 23-year-old raw rookie spliced together a thing of beauty to put the Reds in position was special.
“I made a promise to Cincinnati that I would do everything in my power, prepare, and perform to my highest ability,” said Lorenzen. “I had a good plan going in a d I threw every pitch with confidence and with a purpose. This was actually the first time I ever shook off the catcher because I had conviction for a certain pitch I wanted to throw.”
Lorenzen didn’t get the win. That went to Aroldis Chapman, who pitched the ninth and escaped a minor dilemma when he gave up a one-out single and a one-out walk. But he struck out Tulowitzki and Arenado to preserve the 1-1 tie.
“We have to get used to winning now,” said Lorenzen. “We didn’t get used to losing because we did everything we could to win this game. We showed a lot of fight and now it is time to get used to winning.”
Byrd also scored the first run of the game after leading off the second inning with a single against Rockies rookie Chris Rusin. He was an emergency starter called up from Class AAA Albuquerque to replace scheduled starter Jose de la Rosa, scratched due to a cut on the middle finger of his pitching hand.
After Byrd’s single, Lorenzen bunted him to second and with two outs Billy Hamilton singled to right fielder Carlos Gonzalez, owner of one of the strongest arms in the game. And his throw beat Byrd to the plate, but was wide.
“Billy hit the ball hard and he (Gonzalez) got to it quickly and I feared he might put a good throw on me,” said Byrd. “If he puts it right on the plate I’m probably out. But it was up the line just a tad.”
Again, the baseball gods were smiling.
Hundley’s home run tied it, and the Reds did no further damage to Rusin. It was reliever Brooks Brown who gave up the game-winner to Schumaker.
“That was Michael Lorenzen as good as I’ve seen him,” said manager Bryan Price. “He walked the first guy but got a double play and then found his way. He went a big distance in discovering he can challenge hitters in the strike zone.”
Of finally removing a losing streak, Price said, “We tried everything we could to find a way to win that game. Hopefully that’s a load off everybody’s shoulders and we can relax and go back to having fun, because that is how it is supposed to be.”
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