Of all the games this lost season for the Cincinnati Reds, it appeared that Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Braves was one the Reds could add to the fast-growing loss column.
Miraculously, they won, 4-3, ending their four-game losing streak and their 10-game losing streak in Great American Ball Park.
It was a dramatic walk-off win, a run-scoring bases-loaded single by Albert Almora Jr. in the bottom of the ninth.
The ninth was a complete botch job by the Braves, the defending World Series champions and winners in 23 of their last 29.
The inning began with a single by Tommy Pham against Atlanta closer A.J. Minter.
Botched? Minter had Pham picked off first, so Pham broke for second and first baseman Matt Olson threw wide, and Pham was safe on a throwing error.
Botched? Joey Votto hit a pop foul down the third-base line, a ball that should have been caught, but plopped among three Braves. Votto then walked. Instead of two outs and nobody on, the Reds had two on and no outs.
Botched? Minter then hit pinch-hitter Jonathan India with a pitch to fill the bases.
And Almora swatted the first pitch into left field, the game-ender.
Miraculous? Why miraculous?
For seven innings, the Reds had no runs and one hit against 38-year-old Atlanta starter Charlie Morton. And they had struck out 10 times.
That meant they had two hits and 26 strikeouts over their previous 16 innings.
With 96 pitches, Morton was removed with a 1-0 lead and the Reds began an early Fourth of July celebration with a three-run explosion against Braves reliever Collin McHugh.
The Reds put together four straight hits in the eighth, the big blow a two-run double by pinch-hitter Brandon Drury, who lugged a 0 for 11 slump to the plate.
The inning began with a Mike Moustakas strikeout. Almora singled, Nick Senzel singled and Matt Reynolds singled to tie it, 1-1.
Drury drove one up the right center alley to score Senzel and Reynolds for a 3-1 lead.
Over? Not quite. There was the Reds’ bullpen to contend with. And sure enough, Hunter Strickland gave up a leadoff home run in the ninth to Marcel Ozuna, cutting the lead to 3-2.
Ozuna homered in the fourth, the only run off Reds starter Luis Castillo who left after seven innings, trailing 1-0.
After Ozuna’s home run, Strickland retired the next two … one out from victory. But No. 9 hitter and rookie Michael Harris II, hitless in the series, crushed one halfway up the sun deck in right field to tie it, 3-3.
That set up the wild finish.
During these days of offensive ineptitude by the Reds, a pitcher cannot afford a mistake. No one.
And Reds starter Castillo made one mistake, one slim mistake.
It was a dangling slider in the fourth inning to Ozuna and he planted it into the left-field seats.
That was the only run off Castillo the only run scored by the Braves until the ninth inning.
That’s because the Reds’ hitters were helpless against 38-year-old Atlanta pitcher Charlie Morton. He held the Reds to no runs and one hit over seven and it appeared the Reds were en route to an 11th straight home loss.
On the season’s second day in Atlanta, Morton retired the first 12 Reds before Votto singled to center.
It was almost deja vu all over again Sunday. Morton again retired the first 12 Reds and again Votto broke up the perfect game, this time with a walk. The no-hitter was intact.
Votto was then picked off first base. And Morton continued his steady swath through the Reds batting order.
No other Reds batter discovered first base through six innings.
It ended in the seventh when Max Schrock, a late insertion into the lineup in place of Jonathan India, led with a single up the middle, ending Morton’s no-hit dream.
Schrock’s hit was only the Reds second in their last 16 innings after getting only one hit Saturday, a single by Kyle Farmer.
Farmer was not in Sunday’s game after he was hit on the left hand by a pitch Saturday. In addition to Farmer and India missing from the lineup, Drury was given the day off, until his ninth-inning game-tying double.
After Schrock’s single, he didn’t budge off first base when Solano lined to right, Pham struck out and Votto struck out on three straight breaking pitches after getting ahead in the count 2-and-0, Morton’s 10th strikeout. And it was the 26th time Reds batters struck out the last two games.
But for the Reds, this time, it was all’s well that ends well.