Despite having watched his Cincinnati Reds lose 18 of their last 22 games against the Chicago Cubs, manager Bryan Price was looking forward on Friday to the season’s first matchup with the — still-weird-to-say — defending World Series champions.
“Yeah, we’re facing the champs,” he said before the game. “It’s been a big couple of years for the Cubs. They’ve put together a really nice team. There are a lot of teams out there that are trying to get there, and we’re trying to do the same thing. This is a good way of measuring ourselves.”
The first test was promising — until the ninth, when Anthony Rizzo followed a Miguel Montero single and Kyle Schwarber double by slamming the first pitch he saw from Michael Lorenzen into the first row of the right-field seats for a three-run home run and a 5-5 tie.
The Cubs completed the rally in the 11th against Robert Stephenson on Albert Almora’s one-out walk, Schwarber’s single to right and Kris Bryant’s sacrifice fly for a 6-5 win that knocked the Reds out of first place for the first time in 17 days.
Lorenzen’s plan for Rizzo was simple.
“Challenge him,” he said. “I was going to throw every pitch with conviction. I threw with conviction, he swung with conviction. He got me. He’s a good hitter. He’s Anthony Rizzo for a reason. Stuff like this happens. What separates you is how you handle it. What sucks is that the team played so well. You feel like you let your teammates down.”
Price knew he’d opened himself up for criticism by leaving the right-handed Lorenzen in to face the left-handed Rizzo with left-hander Wandy Peralta warming up.
“Wandy would have been in there if they had taken the lead,” Price said. “We had the right matchup. It just didn’t work out. It’s a second-guesser’s delight. We were one pitch away. We just didn’t get it done. I’m not going to lose any sleep over the decisions. We had the best guy available in there. He was the best guy in that situation.”
For the third straight game, a strong start by a Reds pitcher was wasted. Tim Adleman set a career-high with seven strikeouts and added a tie-breaking, two-run double, but the Reds slipped to 2-6 on their 10-game home stand.
In the previous two games, good-enough-to-win efforts by Amir Garrett and Scott Feldman went unrewarded by a Reds offense that put together a scoreless-inning streak that eventually reached 26 innings.
Playing most of the game in a steady rain before a crowd of 29,350 bolstered by the usual influx of visiting Cubs fans, the Reds left the bases loaded twice.
Adleman, making his first start after being recalled from Triple-A Louisville on Sunday and pitching four innings of relief after rookie Sal Romano lasted three in his major-league debut, allowed four hits and two runs – home runs by Jason Heyward and Javier Baez – with two walks in six innings.
“It was a little spotty at times, but if you had told me six innings and two runs against the Cubs before the game, I would have taken it,” Adleman said.
Right-hander Drew Storen allowed the first two runners to reach in the seventh before bouncing back with a strikeout and a flyout, then coaxing Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, into popping out foul to catcher Tucker Barnhart.
Joey Votto, who went into the game hitting .350 (7-for-20) with four runs batted in over his last six games, batted twice with the bases loaded and two outs and both times flied out to center field, the second shot a hard line drive in the sixth.
Heyward drove his first home run of the season into the right field seats with two outs in the fourth inning to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. The Reds, whose four hits in the first three innings matched their total from the previous two games, got a spark from their two most effective recent hitters to rally for a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the inning.
Eugenio Suarez lined a double up the right-center field gap with one out, and Zack Cozart followed with a bloop RBI double down the left field line.
After Scott Schebler grounded out to Lester, Barnhart was intentionally walked and Adleman made the Cubs pay with an improbable drive into the left-center field gap for a two-run double.
Javier Baez led off the Chicago fifth with his first homer of the season, but Duvall – 2-for-25 on the home stand going into the at bat – got the run back with an opposite-field homer to right in the bottom of the fifth.
The Reds capitalized on a bout of wildness to add a run with a two-out rally in the sixth. Barnhart’s single was followed by three straight walks for a 5-2 lead.