McCoy: Improbable comeback ends with another one-run loss for Reds

It was nearly the miracle of miracles. Nearly. But not quite.

The Cincinnati Reds were beaten by the Chicago Cubs on Monday night in Great American Ball Park, 8-7. But how it became 8-7 was merely a long, long road to a second straight one-run defeat.

The Reds trailed 4-0 in the first. They were behind 6-0 in the second. It was 7-0 in the top of the fifth. It was 7-1 and then 8-1 in the top of the seventh.

And the Cubs were whooping it up in their dugout.

Then what was almost the Miracle on Grass began unfolding. The Reds scored two in the seventh and two in the eighth to sneak to within 8-6.

The Cubs brought in their high-priced closer, Craig Kimbrel, for the ninth, and it was a walk on the wild side.

The Reds proceeded to put four runners on base without a hit. Kimbrel walked four batters, all four on 3-and-2 counts. The fourth walk to Tyler Stephenson forced in a run to make it 8-7.

There was one out and the bases were loaded. Cubs manager David Ross saw more than enough and brought in Jeremy Jeffress.

He went to 3-and-2 on Phillip Ervin and Ervin swung and missed at what would have been ball four to tie the game.

That brought up Joey Votto, who hit into a double play to end Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Again the count went to 3-and-2 before Votto lined out to center field to end it.

Yes, the Reds scored five runs in the last three innings, but for the game they stranded 13 runners, 10 in the last four innings.

And they didn’t have a hit until the sixth inning.

Manager David Bell did not want to hear about his team stranding 13 runners.

“The last thing I would have thought about is runners left on base,” he said. “We had great at bats all night. We scored seven runs. And we almost came back to win the game.

“I have to be honest, I was watching a different game than thinking about runners left on base,” he said. “We had a lot of opportunities and had some great at bats.”

Except several times when they had chances to provide big hits to drive in runs.

If Reds starter Wade Miley wanted to join Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer as an immovable object, he failed with less than aplomb and was the reason the Reds fell behind 6-0, after two innings.

In only 1 2/3 innings Miley gave up six runs, four hits, walked two and hit two. Of the 13 batters he faced, eight reached the basepaths.

“He struggled,” said Bell. “But he has been pitching for a long time and has been through it before. He is a veteran pitcher who will bounce back. He wasn’t sharp, didn’t have his best stuff.”

And giving Cubs starter Jon Lester a six-run lead after two innings is like giving Usain Bolt a 10-meter head start in a 100-meter race.

Lester pitched five innings and didn’t give up a hit. He struck out only one but he had the Reds lofting harmless shallow fly balls. Lester hit a batter and two reached on errors, but nobody dented home plate.

Miley put himself immediately into the danger zone by starting the game by hitting Kris Bryant with a pitch and walking Anthony Rizzo.

He retired the next two and was one out away from escaping. But Willson Contreras doubled in a run, Steven Souza Jr. doubled in two and David Bote singled and a 4-0 Cubs lead.

It continued in the second when Miley walked Bryant and hit Rizzo with a pitch. Javier Baez doubled and Rizzo scored on a passed ball charged to Curt Casali to make it 6-0.

Miley’s short night was concluded and the Reds received their one of two positive notes when rookie Tejay Antone made his major league debut and was stupendous.

The other came in the Reds seventh when catcher Tyler Stephenson, pinch-hitting for his major league debut, cleared the center field wall for a home run ... and he smiled widely as he toured the bases.

He is the first Reds player to debut with a home run in his first at bat in 70 years, since some guy named Ted Tappe did it in 1950, also as a pinch-hitter.

Antone gave the Reds 4 1/3 innings, giving up only one hit and striking out five. The one run was a home run by Rizzo, his 18th career home run in Great American Ball Park.

“On the positive side, how about the way Antone pitched and kept us in the game,” said Bell. “Just an unbelievable job for his first time out, his major league debut. We lost the game, but it would be completely unfair not to mention the unbelievable job Antone did and what Tyler Stephenson did.”

In his debut, Stephenson homered, singled and took the ninth-inning walk to force in the seventh run.

“Stephenson played a huge part in almost pulling out a comeback win,” said Bell. “These young players came up big.”

After Miley departed the Reds scraped a run against relief pitcher Dan Winkler when he walked the first two hitters and pinch-hitter Jesse Winker singled.

The Cubs retrieved that run in the seventh against rookie Brooks Raley on a single by Contreras and a double by David Bote to make it 8-1, then Stephenson’s home run cut it to 8-2. Stephenson followed that home run with a hard-hit single in his second at bat.

Nick Castellanos, who has hits in all four games this season, singled home a run in the seventh, but Josh VanMeter struck out with the bases loaded, leaving it a 8-3.

The Reds put runners on third and second in the eighth, another chance to get back into the game. and Votto blooped a single to right for two runs and it was 8-5.

Eugenio Suarez reached base his first four times with three walks and an error, but ended the rally by grounding out and remains hitless so far this season.

It all led up to the wild, wild finish. The Reds had only six hits, but Cubs pitchers walked nine and hit two.

There was an added oddity in this one. Reds pitchers hit five Cubs batters, the most since Reds pitchers hit six Atlanta Braves in 1969.

So the Reds have started 1-and-3 in this 60-game season and the Cubs are 3-and-1, with three games remaining in the series.