McCoy: Reds rally in 9th for improbable walk-off win

Will Benson and Christian Encarnacion-Strand hit home runs in three-run uprising

It happened as quickly as Will Benson could say, “Almost doesn’t count.”

Almost, indeed.

What happened so quickly? Jonathan India doubled, Benson homered and Christian Encarnacion-Strand homered.

And in the blink of three eyes, the Cincinnati Reds beat the Washington Nationals, 6-5, on Easter Sunday.

It was improbable, implausible but not impossible.

When the ninth inning began, Washington led, 5-3.

Nick Martini lined hard to right field. One out. Luke Maile lined hard to third base. Two outs, nobody on. The Reds down to their last out.

The count went to 3-and-2 on India. The Reds were down to their last strike. India fouled off five pitches from Nationals closer Kyle Finnegan.

Then he pulled the 11th pitch down the left-field line for a double. Ah, some life, but the Reds were still on life support.

But where there is a Will, there is a way, and (Will) Benson deposited Finnegan’s first pitch into the left-field stands. Tie game, 5-5.

That brought up Encarnacion-Strand, 0 for 12 on the season. And in his previous two bats, he snuffed rallies by hitting into two double plays.

This time, though, before they had time to place the Viking helmet and cape on Benson, CES blasted the Reds to victory.

“There is no quit in us and we’re going to play every game to the end,” said Benson.

Of India’s at bat, Benson said, “What an at bat that was. I was on deck and I was saying, ‘Please, Jonathan, get on so I can get one more.’ He did his job; he did his thing.”

When it was mentioned during a post-game interview that the Reds were almost left for dead, CES expanded on Benson’s quote and said, “Almost doesn’t count, especially with our team.”

Then Benson interjected with, “It’s the team motto that we built last year. We’re going to fight and play hard on every single pitch. And that’s what you’re going to get on every single play.”

Despite his struggling start, the walk-off home run was the third of Encarnacion-Strand’s just getting off the ground career.

“Yeah, I mean, that’s pretty crazy,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it, it is just a good feeling to help the boys win.”

He got it and made the utmost of it.

“Definitely a good way for me to get on the board,” said CES. “I have to stay with the same plan regardless of the results. And that was a good one today.”

Way back in the days of the Washington Senators, perennial cellar-dwellers, sports writer Charley Dryden wrote the famous line, “Washington, first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.”

And now it applies to the Washington Nationals. They’ve finished last in the National League East three straight years and prognosticators picked them to finish last this season.

But after losing the opener, 8-2, they beat the Reds on Saturday, 7-6, and it appeared they would win Sunday with two outs in the ninth.

It looked as if the Reds were the last-place team.

They had a 3-1 lead after four innings. Then matters disintegrated.

Nick Martinez, making his first start for the Reds, gave up back-to-back singles in the fifth to the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters, Luis Garcia and rookie Trey Lipscomb. C.J. Abrams bunted them up a base and both scored on a single by Lane Thomas.

That tied it, 3-3, and manager David Bell turned it over to his bullpen. It didn’t work.

Buck Farmer, thinner of hair and thinner of body from last year, made his first appearance. The first batter he faced, that No. 9 rookie hitter, Lipscomb, homered — a ball that deflected off the glove of leaping center fielder Benson.

Now the Reds were down, 4-3.

T.J. Antone, returning from two elbow surgeries, made his season debut in the eighth and it wasn’t pretty. He faced three batters and all reached base — double. walk, walk.

That filled the bases with no outs, a top-level challenge for Antone’s replacement, Fernando Cruz.

What he did was save the game. He gave only a sacrifice fly to Thomas. What could have been a big inning resulted in just one run, a 5-3 deficit.

The Reds were abject failures when they rallied in the sixth, seventh and eighth and didn’t score.

Jake Fraley, who had three hits, singled in the sixth and Spencer Steer singled with two outs. But Martini popped to the pitcher.

Tyler Stephenson singled to open the seventh and India walked … two on, nobody out. Benson struck out, then Encarnacion-Strand hit into a double play.

Jeimer Candelario opened the eighth with a double and moved to third on Fraley’s grounder to first. But Elly De La Cruz struck out and Steer grounded to short.

So it was still 5-3 with two outs in the ninth. Benson made up for his strikeout in the seventh and CES made up for his inning-ending double play in the same inning.

The Reds were 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position, but India, Benson and Encarnacion-Strand made it all superfluous.

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